Phillips announced that it has an edition of Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads from 2010, a commentary on the famous incomplete set of animal heads looted from the zodiac clock created by an Italian Jesuit in the Old Summer Palace of Beijing during the Qing dynasty. Two of the heads became a contentious international issue when Pierre Bergé tried to auction them at Christie’s in the Winter of 2009.
The twelve gold-plated sculptures portraying the signs of the ancient Chinese zodiac are offered with a pre-sale estimate of £2,000,000 – £3,000,000:
Working from the seven originals that remain, Ai Weiwei and his team had to creatively imagine the five heads that are missing. This forced them to draw upon other sources for ‘authentic’ Chinese portrayals of these creatures, such as the dragon, which is based on images from tapestry and print. In spite of this, the set as a whole maintains glorious aesthetic coherence, challenging the idea that the original group was a work of perfection whose loss is an irredeemable tragedy. The fake is invested with the power to revive the past, and the marriage that is made – troubled, yet oddly serene – offers a lustrous exhibition of what might be a brighter, less confused and more beautiful future.
Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads was executed as 6 large editions in bronze, almost 10 feet in height and intended for outdoor display; and 6 smaller editions plated with gold, intended for interior display and between 20 and 30 inches in height. The project was officially introduced by then-Mayor Bloomberg at the Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza, New York, in May 2011, and has since shown at sites and museums throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
The gold-plating of the legendary zodiac here carries a dual weight. The animals radiate the opulent inheritance of their ancient court setting; but the original heads – as well as Ai’s larger alternate version of this work – were in fact unadorned bronze.