09 July, 2011

9 July - Ai Weiwei's Zodiac



While in New York last week, I was able to see Ai Weiwei's “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” installation at the Pulitzer Fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel. As most know by now, Mr. Ai is a political activist who openly criticized the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights. He was arrested in Beijing this past April and held for over two months without official charges. He was recently released, but as Bill Lasarow of Visual Art Source describes, Mr. Ai is “effectively under house arrest, under indictment not for a political “crime” but for tax evasion, he is reduced to the statement: ‘I can’t talk to media but I am well’… Perhaps at some later date the artist will once more be who he so recently was, a fearless creative force shaping his art around a brilliant fusion of spot on aesthetic intuition and political passion. If his life hasIf his life has been salvaged, his teeth have been capped and his claws have been clipped.”

In light of the newly released but eerily silent artist, it felt right to see his installation of gnashing, grimacing, and ferocious creatures taking up significant space in New York City. The installation is a series of 12 heads of the Chinese Zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, boar. The cast bronze heads are enlarged versions of sculptures originally designed by European Jesuits in the 18th century for the Manchu emperor Qianlong. Part of a famous fountain clock in the Summer Palace, they were looted by French and British in 1860. As Roberta Smith describes in the New York Times, the installation that “my colleague Holland Cotter rightly predicted would look “winsome” if you didn’t know the back story, but that becomes more subversive if you do… It is a seemingly benign work plundered by the West, now being shown to the West, triumphantly enlarged and reconstituted.”

The installation is a stunning and subversive reminder of Mr. Ai’s message in a moment that he is unable to freely use his voice. Alexandra Munroe, senior curator of Asian art at the Guggenheim Museum, read a quote by Ai at the opening ceremony of the installation, at a time he was incarcerated and his charges unknown, “without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.” The installation is up 6 more days in New York. It is then scheduled to travel to Los Angeles, Houston, Pittsburgh and Washington. Another edition is currently in front of the Somerset House, London.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Cyndi, for being our eyes in New York.

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