PHOTOS: circle of animals / zodiac heads | ai weiwei | lacma | aug. 20 – feb. 12



I had a half day this past Friday (9/2) in observance of Labor Day so I went to Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to check out the “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads” exhibition by renown contemporary, dissident, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.  This first major public exhibition from Weiwei debuted on August 20th and runs until February 12, 2012.

I encourage you to check out these great pieces of art because not only is it $free.99 (located outdoors at the North Piazza area around the elevators), the story behind the making of these significant (or non-significant) sculptures has a rich and controversial history for Chinese people.  Weiwei’s attempt to create dialogue with these creations in its designated space is up for open interpretation.  Here is some info on the Zodiac project and on Ai Weiwei:

For this monumental new work, Ai has recreated the famous twelve bronze animal heads that once adorned the Zodiac Fountain in Yuan Ming Yuan, the Old Summer Palace, in Beijing. Cast around 1750, the original heads were looted by Anglo-French troops who took part in the destruction of Yuan Ming Yuan in 1860 during the Second Opium War. The heads remain a potent trigger for Chinese nationalist sentiments. Ai’s new work suggests a dialogue about the fate of art objects that exist within dynamic and sometimes volatile cultural and political settings.

Ai Weiwei is known for his constant engagement with Chinese history as a shifting site rather than a static body of knowledge. With his subversive wit, the artist adapts objects from the Chinese material canon going back to antiquity, twisting traditional meanings toward new purposes. Ai’s continuous exploration of the historical object finds great resonance with the encyclopedic collection of LACMA, which includes Chinese art from the Neolithic to the Qing Dynasty period.

Ai Weiwei grew up the son of acclaimed poet Ai Qing and spent several years as a child exiled in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. He spent more than a decade in New York, returning to China in 1993. He was detained in April, 2011, for close to three months before being charged with tax evasion and released on bail. He is currently prohibited from leaving Beijing. He has become an international symbol of the ongoing struggle for freedom of expression and dissent.


Although it is noted by LACMA, other sources and claimed by the Chinese government that the reason for Weiwei’s arrest is “tax evasion,” I wanted to cite that China has a well known pattern of incarcerating citizens who speak out against the Chinese government and politics.  Weiwei’s Twitter and blog has been a significant vehicle for such expression so it is not farfetched to assume this is the real reason why he was put behind bars.


*Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads – Rat (2010) Bronze

*(2020, 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948, 1936, 1924, 1912, 1900): Those born under this sign are charming, clever, and have excellent taste.  They are ambitious, hardworking  perfectionists and are often wealthy and successful.  Family is important to Rats, and they are generous and supportive to the people they love.  Those born in the Year of the Rat are compatible with people born in Dragon, Monkey, and Ox years.

After his release, Weiwei broke his silence and discussed art and life after prison in a recent interview with Los Angeles Times’ David Ng.  After being told not to use Twitter anymore by Chinese officials, Weiwei turned to the 140 character social media platform to, once again, speak out and this time, for the sake of his four colleagues.  The dissident artist has not given up on stating what is right from wrong, good from bad, facts from fiction and is prepared to suffer the consequences.

Will Weiwei ever learn that the Chinese will not stop badgering him until he stops his relentless ways?  Admirable, yes.  But all of his supporters, including myself, do not wish to see or hear anymore bad news about Weiwei.  The man has a wife and family to take care of!  But I am in full support of his movement.


As mentioned, the Zodiac Heads has a rich history.  A history that includes the burning and looting of Yuan Ming Yuan, the Old Summer palace and the zodiac fountain where the original Zodiac Heads once adorned.  This episode is known in China as the “century of national humiliation.”  Since, China has been trying secure the original Zodiac heads that have been circulating the auctioning market for some time.  Seven of the heads have been accounted for and the remaining five have yet to be discovered.



Ai Wei Wei | LACMA| Sept. ’11


Check out LACMA’s video of Ai Weiwei talking about his latest project and exhibiting in Los Angeles for his first time.


For more information on Ai Weiwei’s “Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads” at LACMA, click here.



2 Responses to “PHOTOS: circle of animals / zodiac heads | ai weiwei | lacma | aug. 20 – feb. 12”

  1. Jealouuuuus….wish I could go see the show. Weiwei is pretty cool~:)

  1. 1 WATCH | SUPPORT: ‘ai weiwei: never sorry’ documentary trailer « ¢hung ¢hange

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