Since 2010, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei‘s first major public sculpture project, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, has been touring internationally. Ai produced two sets of the sculptures, the Bronze and Gold series, and they have toured separately. The Bronze series are on view at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from May 9 to October 11.

The twelve sculptures are monumentally scaled reinterpretations of a series of 18th-century zodiac animal heads that decorated the water clock of the Yuanming-Yang, an imperial retreat in Beijing. These original animal heads, designed by two European Jesuits in the court of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty, were stolen when French and British troops pillaged the Yuanming-Yang in 1860. Some have only recently been returned, or remain lost.

As a touring exhibit, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads raises awareness of this particular case of looting while also participating in a broader ongoing debate about the ownership of cultural relics.

The work also engages in Ai Weiwei’s exploration of issues of censorship and free speech. While his work was able to travel, Ai Weiwei himself was unable to attend its 2011 New York opening, as he had been detained by the Chinese government.

So far the sculptures have been shown in Brazil, the U.K., Denmark, Germany, Taiwan, Ukraine, Russia, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.

The Bronze series will be in Sacramento, California, beginning in January 2016.

The Gold series will be on view at the Palm Springs Art Museum in California through May 15, and then in Portland, Oregon, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before traveling to Australia.

The tour will continue for several more years, and updates can be found on the project’s website.


Ai Weiwei Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads
Documentary trailer by Alison Klayman, 2010
Copyright Alison Klayman and AW Asia, New York