China’s Ai Weiwei makes headlines with the sale of his 12 zodiac sculptures

  • Arts
  • Monday, 16 Feb 2015

(Files) In this file picture taken on February 9, 2015, an employee poses next to gold-plated Zodiac Heads by Chinese artist Ai WeiWei during a photocall in central London. The art work was sold at auction for 2,882,500 GBP (3,893,000 Euros, 4,438,000 USD) in London on February 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALLRESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE, MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION, TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION

Ai Weiwei zodiac heads sell for a record sum in London auction.

A set of 12 gold-plated animal head sculptures by China’s Ai Weiwei sold for £2.8mil (RM15.5mil) at auction last Thursday, setting a new record for the dissident artist’s work.

The 2010 work Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads led a contemporary art sale by auction house Philips in London.

Ai Weiwei's 12 gold-plated sculptures, entitled: Circle of Animals/ Zodiac Heads, on display in central London. The zodiac heads are inspired by those which once comprised a water clock-fountain at the Old Summer Palace, the celebrated masterpiece of Chinese landscape design. Photo: AFP

The 12 sculptures represent the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, each head mounted on a pedestal.

The pieces are modelled on smaller heads designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits at the court of Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong.

In this November 2013 picture, Ai Weiwei takes a selfie with the Chairman of Alliance '90/The Greens in the Bavarian parliament, Margarete Bause who was visiting the artist at his studio in Beijing. Photo: EPA

The originals formed a fountain water clock at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, but were ransacked by French and British troops in 1860.

Ai worked from the seven remaining originals and imagined the five heads that had not survived, drawing on depictions in tapestry and print for the dragon.

The dissident artist is noted for his controversial relationship with heritage, infamously smashing a Han Dynasty Urn in a performance work in 1995.

Auction house Philips said that though the animal head sculptures were a recreation of an older work, they achieved “glorious aesthetic coherence” and make a comment on authenticity.

“The fake is invested with the power to revive the past,” the auctioneers said in a press release.

“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 good fortune: The gold-plated Zodiac Heads collection by Chinese artist Ai WeiWei was recently auctioned in London for £2.8mil (RM15.5mil). A staff member poses next to the Dragon Zodiac Head in the 12-piece collection. Photo: AFP

Another Ai Weiwei work sold at the auction was Coloured Vases (In 3 Parts) from 2010, neolithic vases the artist had covered with bright industrial paint, which sold for £182,500 (RM1mil).

The zodiac sculptures sold were the first complete set to come to auction, and one of eight gilded sets made, plus four artist’s proofs.

Further sets of a much larger version of the animal sculptures have also been made in bronze.

The works have been displayed in art museums and public spaces around the world in a travelling exhibition since 2010.

Also sold at the auction was a 1980 work by United States artist Andy Warhol, Diamond Dust Shoes, which sold for £2.3mil (RM12.7mil). — AFP

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