It is a compelling and totally entertaining group of sculptures. Twelve animal heads perched on ten feet tall stands; magnificently displayed in the central plaza of the Hirshhorn. Ai Weiwei has created a work that is intricate, masterful and a joy. “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” is a public exhibition that easily surpasses any hype and is impressive indeed. Weiwei is the talk of the world as much for his political persecutions as his massive body of work. Weiwei is co-designer of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium, an installation artist and a conceptual artist. His writings, particularly on the internet social media sites have been released in book form have enlivened many supporters as well as created trouble with the Chinese government. He is also accused of tax evasion to the tune of a cool two million in US dollars.
The original eighteenth century fountain sculptures that inspired Weiwei’s “Circle of Animals” were destroyed by invading westerners in the nineteenth century. This happened during the Qing dynasty. Weiwei’s versions of the Chinese zodiac characters are largely his own improvisations. This gives the work it’s mark as a contemporary piece while linking it to world history. Walking among these impeccable bronzes is literally a walk through the ages; past, present and future.
These are heady times (no pun) for artists, artisans and connoisseurs. The Hirishhorn is playing host to the great works and artists of the day. It is becoming an important institution with a distinctive flare and flavor of it’s own. Ai Weiwei will be visited again later this year at the Hirshhorn in an extensive US premiere exhibition featuring sculpture, photography, video and site specific instillations. His enigmatically titled “According to What?” will extend his legacy, his reach as a creator, the Hirshhorn’s prestige and our personal enrichment and artistic pleasure.