May 20, 2015

Ai Weiwei @ Portland Art Museum

Ai Weiwei
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold
Portland Art Museum
May 23 - September 13, 2015

The installation consists of a dozen gilded bronze sculptures representing the animal symbols from the traditional Chinese zodiac. The artist drew inspiration for the 12 heads from those originally located at Yuanming Yuan (Old Summer Palace), an imperial retreat of palaces and European-style gardens built outside of Beijing in the 18th and 19th centuries by Emperor Qianlong. Designed and engineered by two European Jesuits, Giuseppe Castiglione and Michel Benoit, the heads originally functioned as an ornate fountain clock that would spout water at two-hour intervals.

Once accessible only to the elite of 18th-century Chinese society, the garden was destroyed and looted by Anglo-French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War, displacing the original zodiac heads. The seven heads known to exist (Monkey, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, and Horse) have all been returned to China. Circle of Animals/ Zodiac Heads: Gold engages issues of looting, repatriation, and cultural heritage while expanding upon ongoing themes in Ai’s work of the “fake” and “copy” in relation to the original.

Ai Weiwei (born 1957, Beijing, China) is a renowned contemporary artist, architectural designer, and social activist who employs a wide range of media. He has been openly critical of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and record of human rights violations, investigated government corruption and coverups, and was held for 81 days at an undisclosed location in 2011. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, he is currently prohibited from leaving China without permission.

Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads collection consists of two series: Bronze and Gold. The installation on view at the Portland Art Museum is one of eight smaller gilded editions, intended for interior display. Another series was produced as large-size in bronze, almost 10 feet high and intended for outdoor display.

The sculptures were showcased at the Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza, New York, in May 2011, and since that time they’ve been displayed in museums and other sites around the world, including Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin and The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.

“We’re delighted to present this important work by one of the world’s leading contemporary artists,” said Brian Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Director. “Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals reflects the Museum’s commitment to the art of today, and it furthers our mission of bringing the world to Oregon. Ai Weiwei’s work reveals layers of history while bringing attention to current economic, political and collecting issues.”

The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold builds on a strong run of contemporary art exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum. In 2014, the Portland Art Museum was the first museum in North America to exhibit Richard Mosse’s groundbreaking installation, The Enclave. Recent exhibitions in the Contemporary Art Series funded by the Miller Meigs Endowment for Contemporary Art have focused on significant artists including Mike Kelley (2012), Cindy Sherman (2012), Sherrie Levine (2013), and Joel Shapiro (2014).

This exhibition is presented at the Portland Art Museum courtesy of Heather James Fine Art, and curated by Brian J. Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Director.

1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205