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Ai Weiwei’s Iconic Zodiac Heads at CMOA

Contact: Jonathan Gaugler | | 412.688.8690 / 412.216.7909

Pittsburgh, PA…It takes a substantial work of art to stand out in the majestic Hall of Architecture at Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA). This summer, internationally recognized Chinese artist Ai Weiwei—currently making headlines for his work in Greece to highlight the plight of Syrian Refugees—contributes a fascinating new dimension to the space with his iconic Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. This artwork is made up of 12 figures of the traditional Chinese zodiac, cast in bronze. Each stands over 10 feet tall and weighs around 2,000 pounds.

Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads
May 28–August 29, 2016
Hall of Architecture

Ai Weiwei at the foundry in Chengdu, China, Courtesy of the artist

Ai Weiwei at the foundry in Chengdu, China, Courtesy of the artist

“Visitors won’t want to miss this,” said CMOA’s chief curator Catherine Evans. “We’re infusing one of the most inspiring spaces in any museum with a monumental work by one of the world’s most dynamic contemporary dissident artists.”

The Hall of Architecture houses one of the world’s few remaining plaster cast collections, filled with reproductions of colossal building facades and fragments from ancient times to the Renaissance. It represents Andrew Carnegie’s vision at the turn of the 19th century of bringing reconstructed icons of the Western world to Pittsburgh. Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads likewise deals with architectural fragments, reimagining the figures that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing destroyed by the British in 1860. It debuted on the world stage in 2011 shortly after the artist, an outspoken critic of the communist regime, had been detained by Chinese authorities and held for 80 days. It wasn’t until last year that Ai Weiwei was able to travel outside of China.

Ai Weiwei, "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads," (detail, Rooster) 2010, Bronze, Private Collection, Images courtesy of Ai Weiwei, Photo: Tim Nighswander

Ai Weiwei, “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” (detail, Rooster), 2010, bronze, private Collection, Images courtesy of Ai Weiwei, Photo: Tim Nighswander

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads pays homage to China’s history while speaking to contemporary concerns. “It’s about the future and the past, and how China is looked at today and how it looks at itself,” explains Ai. “It has many, many different layers—is it art or not art, and to what degree?” It toys with notions of reproduction in order to bring to life the original looted artworks, which continue to incite debate and discussion about looted art whenever a fragment of the original fountain emerges on the international market.

Together, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads and CMOA’s Hall of Architecture create a one-of-a-kind immersive experience that brings together past and present, and underscores how cultural histories are retold.

This presentation complements the concurrent exhibition Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei at our sibling institution The Andy Warhol Museum (June 4–August 28).

Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei, developed by The Warhol and the National Gallery of Victoria, with the participation of Ai Weiwei, explores the significant influence of these two artists on contemporary life. The exhibition focuses on the parallels, intersections, and points of difference between their practices—Warhol representing 20th-century modernity and the “American century,” and Ai representing life in the 21st century and what has been called the “Chinese century” to come. At The Warhol, the exhibition creates a dialogue between the artists throughout the seven floors of the building with more than 350 artworks across media, including some of the major contributions by both artists.


Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads Quick Facts

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957)
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, 2010
Private collection
Images courtesy of Ai Weiwei


12 figures comprise the artwork

Snake                  118” high x 53” wide x 63” deep

Ox                         128” high x 62” wide x 63” deep

Dragon                134” high x 66” wide x 77” deep

Dog                       119” high x 53” wide x 68” deep

Monkey               119” high x 53” wide x 56” deep

Ram                      120” high x 60” wide x 62” deep

Tiger                     129” high x 53” wide x 62” deep

Horse                    119” high x 53” wide x 61” deep

Rat                         119” high x 53” wide x 63” deep

Rabbit                  129” high x 53” wide x 63” deep

Pig                          119” high x 53” wide x 67” deep

Rooster                144” high x 53” wide x 55” deep

Support for Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads installation at Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Architecture is provided by Agnes Gund,

General operating support for Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny Regional Asset District. Carnegie Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Carnegie Museum of Art

Carnegie Museum of Art enriches people’s lives through art. The museum is committed to global engagement and regional advancement. We champion creativity and its importance to society with experiences that welcome, inspire, challenge, and inform. Our core activities—collecting, conserving, presenting, and interpreting works of art—make those experiences possible. Our world-class collection of over 30,000 works emphasizes art, architecture, photography, and design from the 19th century to the present. One of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art was founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895. Learn more: call 412.622.3131 or visit


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