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Volume XXVI, Number 5410
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ai Weiwei Installation Unveiled At The Pulitzer Fountain



Photo by Daniel Avila

On May 4, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads opened at the Pulitzer Fountain in Central Park's Grand Army Plaza. It the first major public sculpture installation by celebrated contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Mayor Bloomberg was joined at the opening by First Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris, AW Asia Founder Larry Warsh, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, NYC & Company President and CEO George Fertitta, Central Park Conservancy President Douglas Blonsky and members of New York City’s arts and cultural community.

The exhibition – on view from May 4 to July 15, 2011 – is comprised of 12 monumental bronze animal heads positioned on marble bases in the lower two basins of the historic Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan, marking the first time an art installation has been presented at the New York City landmark. Ai Weiwei was to attend the opening, but was detained in China on April 3rd and his whereabouts are unknown. Twelve New York arts and cultural leaders – one for each sculpture – read the words of Ai Weiwei at the opening ceremony to make the artist’s voice heard. The Mayor and other participants then turned on the waters of the fountain, marking the official opening of the exhibition.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads was inspired by the fabled fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an 18th-century imperial retreat just outside Beijing. Designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits at the behest of the Manchu Emperor Qianlong, the fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan featured the animals of the Chinese zodiac, each spouting water at two-hour intervals. In 1860, the Yuanming Yuan was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged. Today, seven heads – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey and boar – have been located; the location of the other five are unknown.

The 12 bronze Zodiac Heads stand on bronze columns atop marble bases arrayed in the lower two basins of the fountain. Each animal head weighs approximately 800 pounds and measures approximately 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. Each head and base together is approximately 10 feet high and weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. The exhibition is presented by the Chinese contemporary art organization AW Asia in cooperation with the City of New York, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Central Park Conservancy.

Ai Weiwei, an artist, curator, architectural designer and social activist, is one of the best‐known and most successful contemporary artists in China. He has exhibited in museums and galleries around the world and is well known for headline making projects like his design of the 2008 National Olympic Stadium – “the Bird’s Nest” – and, most recently, Sunflower Seeds, an exhibition in the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern Museum which consisted of 100 million hand‐painted porcelain seeds.

Ai Weiwei is currently being detained by the Chinese government. At the event, Mayor Bloomberg said, "The fact that we do not know where he is, or when he will be released, is very disturbing. Today, we stand in solidarity with the millions of people around the world who are hoping that Ai Weiwei is quickly and safely released. And we stand in solidarity with the billions of people who do not have the most fundamental of all human rights, the most cherished of all American values, and the most valuable of all New York City’s riches: free expression. Artists risk everything to create. They risk failure. They risk rejection. They risk public criticism. But artists like Ai Weiwei, who come from places that do not value and protect free speech, risk even more than that. His willingness to take those risks, and face the consequences, speaks not only to his courage, but also to the indomitable desire for freedom that is inside every human being."


QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

“Contrary to general belief, I do not believe that friends are necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who got there first.”

Peter Ustinov

(1921 - 2004)

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