The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art will expand its outreach into the world of Asian art starting this month with the installation of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads—12 monumental bronze sculptures by artist and social activist Ai Weiwei that have drawn attention around the world.
The sculptures, which will remain on view through May 2018, occupy a prominent position on the Ringling grounds, dominating the scene as your vision stretches from the courtyard to the bay. And these are objects of size: The animal heads in Ai’s bestiary weigh 2,000 pounds each and measure three feet wide and four feet high, not counting the tall columns on which they stand.
Seven of the heads are based on the original fountain examples that once adorned an 18-century imperial retreat outside Beijing. (The Yuanming Yuan, as the retreat was known, was ransacked in 1860 by French and British troops; only seven pieces were later recovered.) Ai used his imagination to construct the other five.
“We always want people to experience something new that hasn’t been here before,” says Ringling executive director Steven High. “This installation is relevant to our time, with issues of looting of objects in the Middle East, and attempts by museums to shut down illegal markets.” The exhibit also reinforces the museum’s investment in Asian art, but mostly, High says, “We just want people to be blown away.”