Currently ‘disappeared’ artist Ai Weiwei’s work, ‘Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads’, has just been unveiled at the Grand Army Plaza in New York City, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking out on Ai’s present detainment. Bloomberg declared that the occasion was ‘bittersweet,’ and that the lack of information regarding Ai’s whereabouts was ‘disturbing.’
The work consists of twelve separate bronze sculptures, each one representing one of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac, and is the first ever major public art installation at Grand Army Plaza. At the corner of 59th and 5th Avenue, the sculptures stand prominently at one of Central Park’s main entrances (right across from the famous Apple store of the infidels).
Our sister site Gothamist, who’ve written a great post on the story with plenty of photos, reports that Mayor Bloomberg spoke on the condition and the role of the artist, a subject which the billionaire entrepreneur is intimately familiar with:
“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,” Bloomberg said. “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.”
“Beauty and inspiration are irrepressible; they are alive in every human heart – in every nation – and wherever an artist creates Ai Weiwei is there,” Bloomberg said. “And today Ai Weiwei is here. Because even though he could not be here physically, he continues to speak to us, to delight us, and to challenge us through his art.”
And wherever an artist creates, the Chinese government is also there. Is Ai’s status as exemplar of the free individual already cemented by now?
As with certain films or books that are deemed inappropriate, Ai has become more famous than ever, and added serious political cred to compliment his artistic stature. The bandwagon is threatening to tip over.
With his detention, Ai has joined a long line of Chinese artists and thinkers whose stock rises internationally after meeting political trouble at home, including the writer Gao Xingjian, and the filmmakers Lou Ye, Tian Zhuangzhuang, and even Zhang Yimou back in the day. Not to mention the latest Nobel Peace Prize winner who shall not be named.
The tour guide in us wants to provide a little background for the art:
The animal heads reference the sculptures looted by French and British soldiers from the Yuanmingyuan (圆明园) during the Second Opium War in 1860. Together they comprise a ‘water fountain clock’ called the Haiyantang (海晏堂), with each head spouting water every two hours.
Charles George Gordon, a captain with the Royal Engineers, didn’t seem to get a kick out of the looting and destruction:
You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them; in fact, these places were so large, and we were so pressed for time, that we could not plunder them carefully. Quantities of gold ornaments were burnt, considered as brass. It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.
Two of the animal heads (the rat and the rabbit) were put up for auction in 2009 as part of a collection of art owned by Yves Saint Laurent, to the great annoyance of both the Chinese government and public. The winner of the auction, Cai Mingchao, refused to pay the final bid of 28 million euros, declaring his false bidding to be ‘an act of patriotism.’
By Fan Huang