From August 20, 2011 to February 12, 2012 – Los Angeles County Museum of Art – LACMA
The Zodiac Project is Ai Wei Wei’s first major public sculpture. For this monumental new work, Wei Wei has recreated the famous the 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. Wei Wei’s new work suggests a dialogue about the fate of art objects that exist within dynamic and sometimes volatile cultural and political settings.
Ai Wei Wei 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. Wei Wei’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 Wei Wei 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 has been detained since April, 2011 on unspecified charges and has become an international symbol of the ongoing struggle for freedom of expression and dissent.