Ai Weiwei.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway is getting another prominent public art installation. But unlike Janet Echelman’s aerial display of over 100 miles or rope, this one will be more down to earth.

Famed contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is presenting an installation of his sculpture Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, to appear at the Greenway’s Rings Fountains from late April to late October 2016. The exhibit comprises 12 monumental bronze animal heads, each representing the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac.

“Centrally located, the Rings Fountain is one of the most adored and culturally diverse attractions on The Greenway,” said Lucas Cowan, Public Art Curator for the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, which is funding the piece along with private donors. “Our vision in presenting Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads in this location is to allow visitors of all ages and backgrounds, from Boston neighborhoods and from around the world, to come enjoy and contemplate this significant work.”

The sculpture is modeled after 12 bronze animal statues that once stood at the Yuanming Yuan, or Summer Palace, in Beijing. During the Second Opium War, in 1860, the palace was looted by French and British troops, and the heads were taken. Weiwei’s reinterpretation is a commentary “to the issue of looting and repatriation of art treasures,” according to a release.

“Ai Weiwei and the Greenway Conservancy share a common goal of bringing art to people in unexpected settings outside the traditional museum context to experience during their daily routines,” Cowan said. “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.”

Weiwei is known for creating art with a social purpose, exposing culture, history, politics and the blurred lines that often exist in between art and activism. His other best-known pieces include:

  • The National Olympic Stadium (“the Bird’s Nest”) for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing;
  • @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz;
  • And a plan to create portraits of freedom advocates out of Lego bricks (which he challenged Lego directly about, and won).

Weiwei also has pieces on display at the Museum of Fine Arts. Boston is part of a multi-year touring exhibition for The Zodiac Heads, which will make stops in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

“Public art creates a more welcoming and innovative Boston, and I thank The Greenway for these efforts to bring dynamic art installations to downtown Boston,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “I welcome The Greenway’s Ai Weiwei installation to our City and look forward to the visitors it will bring to downtown.”

Check out photos of The Zodiac Heads, below:
The Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza in New York City, May 2011.
The Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza in New York City, May 2011.
The Tuileries Garden at the Louvre, Paris, France (October 22 – December 31, 2015).

Images courtesy of the artist.