Following the success of the Janet Echelman sculpture, “As If It Were Already Here” in 2015, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy is bringing a new contemporary art exhibition to Boston. In late April 2016, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will install Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads around the Rings Fountain at Milk Street in the Wharf District Greenway Parks.
The twelve animal heads are each about 10 feet tall and will be installed in a circle around the Rings Fountain with the faces looking outward toward pedestrians and cars driving on Surface Road and Atlantic Avenue. The Rings Fountain itself starts operating in late May to early October from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
“Centrally located, the Rings Fountain is one of the most adored and culturally diverse attractions on The Greenway,” said Lucas Cowan, Public Art Curator for the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. “Our vision in presenting Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads in this location is to allow visitors of all ages and backgrounds, from Boston neighborhoods and from around the world, to come enjoy and contemplate this significant work.”
Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is based on the twelve bronze zodiac animals that once adorned a water clock-fountain sited in the elaborate European-style gardens of the Yuanming Yuan (Summer Palace). In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the palace was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged. Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is a re-interpretation of these animal heads that calls attention to the issue of looting and repatriation of art treasures. Other cities exhibiting the display include New York City, Taipei, Paris, Prague, Jackson Hole, Los Angeles and Toronto.
Ai Weiwei is best known for the design of the National Olympic Stadium (“the Bird’s Nest”) for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz in 2014-15, a series of site-specific installations which raised questions about freedom of expression and human rights; and his plan to create portraits of freedom advocates using Lego bricks. Ai Weiwei’s work confronts the repressive acts of the Chinese authorities; his activities have caused him to be physically harmed and restrained from travel outside China.
The twelve animal heads will be installed in the order of the traditional Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. (2016 is the year of the Monkey.) Each of the sculptures weighs from 1,500 to 2,100 pounds each. In collaboration with AW Asia, the touring exhibition is being funded by the Conservancy and private donors. More about Ai Weiwei and his artwork can be found at zodiacheads.com.