cover image Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals

Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals

Edited by Susan Delson. Prestel, $49.95 (220p) ISBN 978-3-7913-4636-6

The detainment of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the spring of 2011 somewhat overshadowed the unveiling of the public masterpiece that was, and is, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads%E2%80%94a dozen statues depicting the heads of the various animals of the Chinese zodiac. The playful appearance of the work is entirely deliberate, as is the complex historical premise, a story brought to life in the pages of this book. Beijing's Yuanming Yuan ("Garden of Perfect Brightness") was the original home to twelve bronze heads, but looting in 1860 during the Opium Wars left only seven intact%E2%80%94the rest are still missing. Weiwei's ambitiously crafted tribute acknowledges the annals of his nation's past, confirming the notion that "historical references can invest even the most unassuming objects with layers of meaning." Comprising three parts, the text is organized in the form of a "chronological arc," beginning and ending in the present. "The result is a multifaceted, overlapping portrayal%E2%80%A6Ai Weiwei, his art, [and] his engagement with history." Interviews with the artist and essays by various contributors reveal his unique practices and philosophies, complemented by gorgeous photographic depictions of the individual heads and Weiwei's unmistakably Duchampian contemporary works, as well as myriad examples of Chinese artworks of antiquity. The controversy surrounding Weiwei has brought the already accomplished artist to the world's attention, and this book,as well as the work it celebrates, are monuments to the persistence of history and art. Color photos. (Oct.)