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Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads
on the grounds of The Ringling Museum

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei continues to gain attention for the upcoming release of both his memoir and his latest documentary on the global refugee crisis, as well as his four simultaneous gallery shows upon his return to New York last fall. Coinciding with this moment, The Ringling announces the presentation of his 12 monumental bronze sculptures, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, June 2017 through May 2018.

A sculptor, photographer, installation artist, architect, and social activist, Ai Weiwei is one of the most renowned artists working today.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was inspired by the fabled fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an 18th-century imperial retreat just outside Beijing. Designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits at the behest of the Manchu Emperor Qianlong, the fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan featured the animals of the Chinese zodiac, each spouting water at two-hour intervals. In 1860, the Yuanming Yuan was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged.

Seven out of the 12 animal heads in Ai Weiwei’s work are based on the original fountain examples that have been discovered – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey and boar. The remaining five are the artist’s reimagining of the currently missing artifacts – dragon, snake, goat, rooster and dog. The dual title of the work addresses the artist’s desire that the collection of sculptures be relatable on many different levels and to people who may not know the original history.

Zodiac heads displayed in New York City
at the historic Pulitzer Fountain
The 12 bronze Zodiac Heads stand on bronze columns. Each animal head measures approximately 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. Each head and base together is approximately 10 feet high and weighs nearly 2,000 pounds. This group of works, including a smaller copy in gold, has been exhibited worldwide since the official launch of the Zodiac Heads in 2011, making it one of the most-viewed sculpture projects in the history of contemporary art.

In re-interpreting these objects on an oversized scale, Ai Weiwei focuses attention on questions of looting and repatriation, while extending his ongoing exploration of the 'fake' and the copy in relation to the original. He states that each piece is “a copy of an original, but not an exact copy – something that has its own sensitive layer of languages, which are different, and that bears the mark of our time.”

The sculptures will be placed on The Ringling’s grounds in the courtyard north of the Searing Wing of the Museum of Art, which are free and open to the public. “As part of our ongoing series of year-long artist projects on our grounds, we are thrilled to feature this year an important work by the internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei. At once whimsical and thought provoking, I look forward to watching our guests engage with these sculptures throughout the year,” said Steven High, executive director, The Ringling.

About The Ringling
The Ringling is a center for art, history and learning situated on 66 acres on Sarasota Bay. It is built on the legacy of circus entrepreneur, collector of art and financier John Ringling and his wife Mable.

The Ringling inspires visitors with an acclaimed collection of Old Master paintings, explores with them the diverse cultures and art of Asia, delights them with the story of the American circus, and transports them to the Roaring Twenties during a tour of the magnificent Ca’ d’Zan mansion.

The Ringling is also committed to exhibiting the work of an emerging community of living artists that moves beyond traditional practice and features dynamic and engaging contemporary visual and performing arts, including a diverse roster of theater, music and dance.

The Ringling is the State Art Museum of Florida. Affiliated with Florida State University, it is one of the largest university art centers in the nation.

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