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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: March 19, 2018

Ai Weiwei’s ‘Zodiac Heads’ make first New England appearance at the Farnsworth

Written by: Bob Keyes

Ai Weiwei in his Beijing studio examining early versions of heads from “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold.” The artist and human rights activist drew inspiration for his sculpture series from the dozen bronze animal heads originally located at Yuanming Yuan, the Garden of Perfect Brightness, an imperial retreat outside Beijing that was built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Photo courtesy of Farnsworth Art Museum

ROCKLAND — The Farnsworth Art Museum will show the first presentation in New England of Ai Weiwei’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold,” and the museum’s display also will mark the first time the gold zodiac heads series has been shown on the East Coast since 2013.

“This exhibition will provide the very first opportunity for so many here in our state to view the works of Ai Weiwei, certainly one of the most important contemporary artists in the world today,” Farnsworth director Christopher J. Brownawell said in a press release.

The exhibition of a dozen gilded bronze heads representing the animal symbols of the ancient Chinese zodiac will open Saturday and remain on view through Dec. 30 in the museum’s Rothschild Gallery.

Ai’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” consists of two series: a bronze edition for outdoor display and a smaller-scaled gilded bronze edition for indoor display. The installation on view at the Farnsworth Art Museum is one of eight smaller gilded editions, with individual sculptures measuring between 20 and 30 inches in height.

Ai was born in Beijing and lives in Berlin. He has been openly critical of China’s human rights record and spent 81 days in jail without being charged in 2001. A recent public art project, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” just closed in New York, where it was on view throughout the city since the fall. He was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as Art Innovator of the Year in 2016, and won the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in 2015 and the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent from the Human Rights Foundation 2012.

He drew inspiration for his “Zodiac Heads” series from the dozen bronze animal heads originally located at Yuanming Yuan, the Garden of Perfect Brightness, an imperial retreat outside Beijing that was built in the 18th and 19th centuries. At its center was an ornate fountain clock that featured bronze-headed figures representing the animals of the traditional zodiac. The fountain would spout water at two-hour intervals.

The garden was destroyed during fighting in 1860s, displacing the original zodiac heads. Seven heads have been returned to China. The whereabouts of the other five are unknown.

 


WHAT: Ai Weiei’s “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold”
WHERE: Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum St., Rockland
WHEN: Opens Saturday, on view through Dec. 30; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday through March 31; beginning April 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
HOW MUCH: $12 adults, $10 seniors and students; free for Rockland residents 16 and younger

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