Beginning on Saturday, March 24, 2018, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine will present a special exhibition of sculptural works by Chinese dissident-artist Ai Weiwei (b. 1957). Ai’s gilded bronze Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold series will be on display in the museum’s Rothschild Gallery through December 30, 2018. This will be the first presentation of the internationally-known artist’s works in Maine, and the first New England showing of his gilded Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads.
Farnsworth Art Museum Director Christopher J. Brownawell commented: “We are very grateful to Heather James Fine Art for bringing this extraordinary show to the Farnsworth. This exhibition will provide the very first opportunity for so many here in our state to view the works of Ai Weiwei, certainly one of the most important contemporary artists in the world today.”
Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze series—his first work of monumental public art—drew worldwide attention in spring 2011 when the artist was detained by Chinese authorities a month before the work debuted in New York City. Held incommunicado for eighty-one days, Ai Weiwei was released after an international protest campaign was mounted by museums, artists, and concerned citizens. Upon his release he was put under house arrest and forbidden to travel outside Beijing until July 2015.
A lively re-envisioning of the twelve animals of the ancient Chinese zodiac, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads dates back to a dark episode with respect to China’s relationship with the West. During the Second Opium War in 1860, the famed Yuanming Yuan (or Garden of Perfect Brightness) was destroyed and looted by British and French troops. An imperial retreat built a century earlier during the Qing Dynasty (1636 – 1912), the Yuanming Yuan featured an ornate, European-style section with grand fountains, gardens, and palaces. At its center was a splendid zodiac water-clock fountain with spouting bronze-headed figures representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac. The 12 animals marked the hours of the day. The entire complex was ransacked long ago, but in recent years the seven bronze zodiac heads that survive have become fraught symbols of the cultural achievements of the Qing era, the nation’s period of humiliation by the West. The original zodiac heads represent a powerful topic for contemporary China’s relationship with its own history. Seizing on the rich and contradictory symbolism of the heads, Ai Weiwei’s re-interpretation of this work is a powerful statement about the “fake” in relation to the “real.”
Ai’s exquisitely designed and fabricated golden Zodiac Heads are featured in this exhibit, the first presentation of the internationally known artist’s works in Maine. The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze and Gold series have been exhibited at over 40 international venues and counting since the official launch of this body of work in 2011. The Zodiac Heads have been seen by millions of people worldwide, making it one of the most viewed sculpture projects in the history of contemporary art.
Ai is recognized around the world as a creative force and cultural commentator, and he continues to redefine the role of both artist and activist. Ai was born in Beijing in 1957, to the renowned poet and intellectual Ai Qing. When his father was denounced in 1959 during the Anti-Rightist Movement, the family was sent to a labor camp in rural Xinjiang Province where Ai spent the next 16 years. After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the family returned to Beijing and Ai then studied at the Beijing Film Academy in 1978 before moving to the United States in 1981. After living in New York’s East Village for a decade, he returned to China in 1993 and helped establish the Beijing East Village contemporary art scene. In 2011, after a period of escalating conflict with Chinese authorities, Ai was arrested for purported tax evasion. In recent years Ai Weiwei has been living in Berlin, Germany.
Ai Weiwei’s recent major solo exhibitions include those held at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); the Tate Modern, London (2010); the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2012); the Royal Academy of Arts, London (2015); and the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy (2016). He has received numerous awards and honors, notably Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award (2015) and the Wall Street Journal’s Innovator of the Year (2016). His recent documentary Human Flow, which calls attention to the current refugee crisis, has received worldwide attention and his current New York City exhibition of city-wide public art titled Good Fences Make Good Neighbors is currently on display through February 11, 2018.
The Farnsworth Art Museum celebrates Maine’s ongoing role in American art. It offers a nationally recognized collection of works from many of America’s greatest artists, with 20,000 square feet of gallery space and over 15,000 works in the collection. The Farnsworth has one of the largest public collections of works by sculptor Louise Nevelson, while its Wyeth Center features works of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. The National Register-listed Farnsworth Homestead; the Olson House, a National Historic Landmark; and Julia’s Gallery for Young Artists complete the museum complex. Please visit www.farnsworthmuseum.org for more information on current exhibitions, programs and events.
Farnsworth Art Museum
16 Museum Street
About Farnsworth Art Museum
Celebrating Maine’s Role in American Art, the Farnsworth Art Museum offers a nationally recognized collection of works from many of America’s greatest artists.
With 20,000 square feet of gallery space and over 10,000 works in the collection, there is always something new on view at the Farnsworth. The museum houses the nation's second-largest collection of works by premier 20th-century sculptor Louise Nevelson. Its Wyeth Center exclusively features works of Andrew, N.C. and Jamie Wyeth.
The Farnsworth's library is also housed in its Rockland, ME, campus. Two historic buildings, the Farnsworth Homestead and the Olson House, complete the museum complex.
DAVID S TROUP