'Zodiac Heads' To Loom Over CMOA Visitors This Summer

May 31, 2016

The massive bronze heads of a rat, an ox and a tiger are part of Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei's "Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads" exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art this summer.
Credit Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

A dozen monolithic sculptures by the acclaimed Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei are on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art this summer.

Visitors to the museum's Hall of Architecture can stand in the shadows of the larger-than-life statues of "Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads," which officially opened on Saturday. Each of the 12 bronze statues weighs between 1,500 and 2,500 pounds, and each depicts the head of an animal of the Chinese Zodiac.

Catherine Evans, the museum's chief curator, said Ai was interested in the potential "mash-up of cultural histories" offered by inserting the Zodiac Heads into the Hall of Architecture.

"This opportunity to put these Chinese resurrected, reimagined casts set against these historic European casts was quite irresistible," Evans said. The hall also features a cast of the facades of cathedrals, classical statuary and other Western art from various periods.

Evans said Ai's bronze sculptures are based on a similar set that stood outside a historic Chinese temple that was destroyed by the British in the Second Opium War in the 19th Century.

The monolithic bronze heads of a dog, a pig and a rat are themselves dwarfed by a cast of the façade of a French cathedral at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland.
Credit Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

"The looting and pillaging of cultural histories and artifacts is something that Ai Weiwei is very concerned with," Evans said.

Evans said Ai originally intended to bring the sculptures to Pittsburgh in 2011, but was detained for months by the Chinese government before those plans could be carried out.

Evans said Ai may be the most well-known artist working today, "but he's also a huge activist and advocate for, right now, the rights of refugees. So, he's very visible, not just in our smallish art world, but really globally."

The Carnegie Museum of Art exhibit, which wraps up Aug. 29, will complement a large exhibit of Ai's work at the Warhol Museum that is slated to open on June 3.