Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads
The Princeton University Art Museum installed 12 monumental sculptures—Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads—by the renowned contemporary Chinese artist, architectural designer, curator, and social activist Ai Weiwei. The work is installed at the University’s Scudder Plaza, in front of Robertson Hall, home of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and will be on view from August 1, 2012, to December 4, 2016. The sculptures have been generously loaned to the University by the family of an alumnus and are part of a world tour of the work, which has appeared in cities including Sao Paulo, London, Los Angeles, and Taipei.
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads draws inspiration from sculptures that once adorned the fountain clock at Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat outside Beijing, representing the signs of the zodiac (snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, and dragon). Designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione in the mid 18th century, the original works were looted in 1860 when France and Britain invaded China. Of the 12 figures, only seven are known to have survived. Five have been repatriated to China, but ownership of the remaining two is contested. The re-envisioning of the work represents an intriguing intersection of history and politics and is a reflection on the complexities of authenticity and derivation. By reinterpreting art commissioned by a Qing dynasty emperor, designed by an Italian artist, engineered by a French Jesuit mathematician, and accessible only to the elite circles of 18th-century Chinese society—and then sending the resultant sculptures on a worldwide tour—Ai Weiwei complicates conversations about repatriation, shared cultural heritage, and contemporary expectations regarding the democratization of art and public space.
Photo: Marianne Nelson/PAW