Giant Animal Heads Grace The Greenway

Posted June 4, 2016 by Brian Keaney in Theater & Arts
Ai Weiwei's "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads". Photo Credit: J Morc

This, according to the Chinese zodiac, is the year of the monkey. A giant head of a monkey, along with the heads of the 11 other animals depicted in Chinese astrology, have been erected in a new public art installation on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Designed by Ai Weiwei, who is considered to be China’s most prolific and provocative contemporary artist, they stand roughly 10 feet tall and weigh between 1,500 and 2,100 pounds each.

Known as “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” the sculptures encircle the Rings Fountain between Central and Milk Streets. The fountain, a favorite of children and even some adults on hot summer days, sprays water out of the ground beginning in late May and running to early October from 9am to 11pm daily.

The animal heads have been placed in the order in which they appear in the traditional Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. They were modeled after twelve similar bronze statues that once stood around another fountain, this one a water clock in the Yuanming Yuan (“Gardens of Perfect Brightness”), or summer palace, in Beijing’s Imperial City.

The originals were designed by by Giuseppe Castiglione, an Italian Jesuit missionary and artist serving in the court of Emperor Qianlong during the 18th century Qing Dynasty. They were looted during a ransacking of the palace by French and British troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War, however, and several were never recovered. Weiwei’s re-interpretation is designed, in part, to bring attention to the issue of looting and the repatriation of art treasures.

“Ai Weiwei and the Greenway Conservancy share a vision in bringing art to people in unexpected settings outside museum walls to experience during their daily routines,” Lucas Cowan, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy’s public art curator, said in a statement.  “We hope all who see Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads on the Greenway will draw inspiration and find meaning in these sculptures – whether political, social, cultural, or simply as a presentation of animal heads.”

This is not the first stop for the animal head exhibit. The exhibition is currently on a tour that will take multiple years, encompassing parts of the United States, Europe, and Asia. They have already made appearances at the Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza in New York City; the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwan; the Tuileries Gardens at the Louvre in Paris; National Gallery in Prague; National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California; and Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy organized the Boston exhibition in collaboration with AW Asia, and also provided funding along with private donors.

Weiwei is also known for his National Olympic Stadium, popularly known as “the Bird’s Nest,” which was constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. His work “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz,” a series of site-specific installations, raised questions about freedom of expression and human rights. It is works such as this that have provoked the ire of the Chinese government, which has restricted his travel outside of China.

Across town, the Museum of Fine Arts is presenting his work “Forever” from 2003, and 2009’s “Snake Ceiling,” as part of their Megacities Asia exhibit. They can be seen through July 17, 2016. More information on Weiwei and his artwork can be found at