"Circle of Animals" world tour includes Denver.Beginning on October 5, Denver Arts & Venues will bring a new, year-long art exhibit titled 'Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads' to Denver's Civic Center Park. The installation is the first public sculpture initiative for Ai Weiwei, the renowned contemporary artist, Ai Weiwei, named "China's most dangerous man" by ArtReview magazine, and serves as a modern interpretation of the traditional Chinese zodiac sculptures that once beautified the famed fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan -- an imperial palace that's regarded as one of the country's architectural wonders and the site of a bloody vengeance. [gallery ids="24445,23932,23933,23934"] The story has it that in 1860, during the Second Opium War, British and French troops marched inland and arrived in Beijing. There, two envoys of European and Indian troops were sent ahead under truce to negotiate with Prince Yi and representatives of the Qing Empire, but after a day of negotiating, they were taken prisoner by Chinese forces and later many of them were tortured and killed. A month later, the British sent 3,500 troops off course to decimate and desecrate the Yuanming Yuan in retaliation. Approximately 300 people perished when the palace was pillaged and set ablaze. [caption id="attachment_23935" align="aligncenter" width="651"] Yuanming Yuan Etching[/caption]
So why is this important to Ai Weiwei's work?Well, those pillaged artifacts, some of which date back to the Shang, Zhou, and Han dynasties (up to 3,600 years old), as well as the original animal heads that inspired 'The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads' are now showing up at auction houses like Sotheby's and selling for millions. Since many Chinese people still see the pummeling of the Yuanming Yuan as a shameful and humiliating event, the circulation of the heads makes many feel uneasy, but Europeans argue that since the heads were actually made by European craftsmen, it's perfectly acceptable to return them to Europe. Some scholars also point to the destruction of the Yuanming Yuan as the result of the "Cultural Revolution" and "Republican" era that was taking place, and that's just the froth on the latte for Weiwei.
As for the man behind the art, he has served as an artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium, and he has served jail time for investigating government corruption and leading protests. He also has created a multitude of documentaries, dabbled with visual arts, curated architectural projects that have won international acclaim, and recently published several books. In 2015, Weiwei received Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience Award alongside folk-icon and activist Joan Baez. Weiwei's openly critical views of the Chinese government's stance on democracy and human rights could earn him the title of the world's bravest artist, and soon you'll be able to enjoy his work right here in Denver! So, do him a favor, get out there and contemplate! What are your thoughts? Who is your favorite artist? What is your favorite piece of publicly displayed artwork in Colorado? What does it mean to you? We want to know about it, so let us know in the comments below!