LongHouse Reserve, known for its exquisite outdoor sculpture garden, is welcoming Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze beginning Wednesday, July 8. The twelve monumental bronze animal heads will be on display through October 2021. The approximately ten-feet tall statues that represent the traditional figures of the Chinese zodiac will be installed around the perimeter of LongHouse’s outdoor Albee Amphitheater.
This is the third time the celebrated Chinese artist has participated in an exhibition at LongHouse Reserve. In 2013, Ai Weiwei was honored with the LongHouse Award and has since been a very dear honoree. At the time of the Award he was under house arrest in Beijing and sent a video as his acceptance speech. Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze was on display in 2013 at LongHouse Reserve, which is one of 45 international locations that have hosted this magnificent work of art.
“Ai’s Zodiac series returns to Longhouse Reserve just when we need it most. How ironic that an artist who understands more than most about confinement would offer his provocative work now,” reflected President of LongHouse Reserve, Dianne Benson. “The gardens have never been lovelier. They’re what hope looks like. It makes my heart sing to see them.”
The sculptures debuted at the São Paulo Biennial in 2010, and then began an international tour, arriving in the U.S. at the Pulitzer Fountain at the Grand Army Plaza in Central Park, New York in 2011. Past exhibition venues include Somerset House, London, UK; LACMA, Los Angeles; The Warhol Museum and Carnegie Museum of Art, PA; Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, UK; Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria; The National Museum of Wildlife Art, WY; The Tuileries Garden at the Louvre, Paris, France; Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, Mexico; Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan; Contemporary Art Centre of Malaga (CAC), Malaga, Spain; Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C, among other notable locations around the world.
It is truly incredible how far and wide these sculptures have traveled, but there’s more to the famed artist’s story. In April 2011, Ai Weiwei was detained for 81 days and later released from secret captivity by Chinese Authorities, but his passport was confiscated, and he remained under house arrest until July 2015. In 2016, Ai Weiwei was granted his freedom and he visited the National Gallery in Prague to see his sculptures for the first time in person.
Each of the sculptures weight between 1,500 and 2,100 pounds. They are supported by a buried marble based weighing 600 to 1,000 pounds. They are displayed in cosmological order and according to the traditional Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. The total combined weight of these sculptures is a whopping 46,000 pounds. They require massive lifts to move them into place among the trees and flowers at LongHouse Reserve.
The sculptures are re-envisioned versions of the 18th century heads that were designed during the Qing dynasty for the fountain clock of the Yuanming Yuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness), an imperial retreat outside Beijing. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, British and French troops looted these magnificent creations. Today, seven heads have been found, but the location of the other five are unknown.
Ai Weiwei has committed his professional life to reinterpreting these objects in a contemporary context. He is widely known for his engagement with Chinese history and adaptation so of objects from the ancient Chinese material canon, such as furniture and ceramic objects. The artist thinks of these sculptures in the context of looting and repatriation, as well as symbols of Chinese nationalism.
The Hamptons community is invited to witness this spectacular representation of Chinese history and art through October 2021.
LongHouse Reserve is located at 133 Hands Creek Road in East Hampton. For more information, call 631-329-3568 or visit www.longhouse.org.