Ai Weiwei is a contemporary Chinese artist. He helped design the “bird’s nest” stadium for the Chinese Olympics and recently had an exhibit at the Tate Modern in London where he covered the turbine hall floor with sunflower seeds that were made from porcelain.
He is currently sitting in a jail cell in China. (No one knows exactly where.) He was snatched as he boarded a flight to Hong Kong. The government said he has committed “economic crimes.” I don’t suppose his detention has anything to do with his outspokenness, does it? China is a terrible, terrible place. They’re not our friends.
A fantastic sculpture exhibit by Mr. Ai, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, just opened outside of the Plaza Hotel at Central Park South and 59th Street. The exhibit was long planned and he was supposed to be there for the opening, but it’s hard to attend your opening when your legs are in shackles.
The bronze sculptures are 12 heads of the creatures of the Chinese zodiac. They’re much, much bigger than I thought they’d be. I was told by the guy selling exhibit books and tee-shirts that they weigh 800 pounds each!
The heads are replicas of versions that were made by European Jesuits for the Manchu emperor Qianlong. They were looted in 1860 when the Summer Palace was ransacked and burned by British and French troops during the Opium Wars. The Chinese government eventually retrieved five of them (ox, tiger, horse, monkey and boar). Two of them (rat and rabbit) are part of designer Yves Saint Laurent’s art collection. The remaining five are presumed lost forever.
Unlike Mr. Ai, the exhibit is FREE! FREE! FREE! It runs through July 15th.