The Arsenal Gallery is pleased to present Full Circle: Ai Weiwei and the Emperor's Fountain in collaboration with AW Asia. This photographic exhibition, on view between May 2 and July 15, looks behind the scenes at the complex history and concept behind the first major public sculpture in New York City by China's most celebrated contemporary artist. Steps from the Arsenal Gallery, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is on view beginning May 2 at the historic Pulitzer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
"As Central Park's Grand Army Plaza welcomes Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, the Arsenal Gallery is thrilled to host this photographic exhibition looking at the creative process behind this installation," said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "Ai Weiwei's creation is the latest in a more than 40-year tradition of the display of temporary public art in our parks. The City is proud to encourage these displays as we work to curate the world's largest outdoor art museum."
Full Circle focuses on the inspiration for Ai's current project: the ransacked 18th-century zodiac fountain clock designed by European Jesuits for the imperial retreat known as the Yuanming Yuan (the Garden of Perfect Brightness). Although the European palaces of the Yuanming Yuan housed a multitude of treasures, it is these 12 bronze heads depicting the animals of the Chinese zodiac that have, over the past two decades, achieved the status of National Treasures.
In an interesting twist of history, these ornamental figures have been transformed into powerful symbols of the tumult in 19th-century China: the cultural achievements of the early Qing era, the losses suffered in the Opium Wars, and the humiliations that followed. In his recasting of the fountain's history, Ai creates new layers of meaning for the 12 zodiac heads, presenting them as an evocative symbol of contemporary China's complicated understanding of its past and of its shifting relationship with the West.
Born in Beijing in 1957, Ai Weiwei is the son of one of China's most respected poets. He left China for New York to pursue his artistic career, enrolling in the Parsons School of Design in 1983. Although he did not complete his degree, Ai lived in New York from 1981 to 1993, and has a strong affinity for the city, its people, and energy. Commenting on New York's cultural diversity, he has described it as a "zodiac city." Most recently, he helped design the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing, and created the art installation Sunflower Seeds, which featured one hundred million handmade porcelain sunflower seeds, on display at the Turbine Hall in London's Tate Modern. Documentary footage of Ai Weiwei and the making of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is included in the exhibition.
The Arsenal Gallery is dedicated to examining themes of nature, urban space, wildlife, New York City parks, and park history. It is located on the third floor of the Arsenal, the NYC Parks & Recreation headquarters, in Central Park, on Fifth Avenue at 64th Street. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for holidays. Admission is free.