Princeton University Art Museum opens Installation by Ai Weiwei

Princeton University Art Museum presents an installation of Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads on view from Aug. 1, 2012 to Aug. 1, 2013 and is part of a world tour of the work, which has appeared in cities including Sao Paulo, London, Los Angeles and Taipei. The 12 sculptures have been generously loaned to the University by the family of an alumnus.

Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most prolific and controversial artists. His work in recent years has included collaboration on the design of the Beijing Olympic Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest,” for the 2008 Olympic Games; Sunflower Seeds, an exhibition at London’s Tate Modern featuring 100 million hand-painted porcelain seeds; and innovative uses of social media to advance artistic objectives, free speech and human rights.

In Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, Mr. Ai 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 remains contested.

Mr. Ai’s 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 complicates conversations about repatriation, shared cultural heritage and contemporary expectations regarding the democratization of art and public space.

The figures are rendered in fabulously detailed bronze, each approximately 10 feet in height. The dual title of the work addresses the notion that, even for those viewers who have no cultural connection to the Chinese zodiac, the sculptures stand as animal figures in their own right, universally accessible to all people.

This presentation of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads reflects a longstanding commitment on the part of the Woodrow Wilson School to engagement with human rights issues around the world, as well as the Art Museum’s commitment to placing art across the whole of the University campus, thus creating rich opportunities to discover great art in the path of everyday life. Notes James Steward, director of the Princeton University Art Museum, “We are delighted to have Ai Weiwei’s work on campus for the coming year, work that is at once playful and provocative, and through which we can consider the role of the visual arts in the politics of resistance.”

To celebrate and explore Mr. Ai’s art and his dedication to human rights, Princeton plans to host him for a day of student and community events on Oct.10, 2012. The day will include public talks and a panel discussion about his artwork and his work on human rights, as well as private meetings with faculty, students and University officials. To receive updated information about the public events, please sign up for the Woodrow Wilson School e-newsletter at

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published.