Ai Weiwei, 2016

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze, 2010

Around the Rings Fountain


From late April to late October 2016, The Greenway presented Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by internationally acclaimed Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei (pronounced “eye way way”) around the Rings Fountain in the Wharf District between Central and Milk Streets. During the installation the Rings Fountain will be open for splashing from late May to early October from 9am to 11pm daily.

The artist’s first major public sculpture project, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is comprised of 12 monumental bronze animal heads representing the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. The Zodiac Heads series is on a global, multi-year touring exhibition in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The Boston exhibition of this work is organized by the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy and presented in collaboration with AW Asia. The exhibition is funded by the Greenway Conservancy and private donors.

 Quick Facts

  • The twelve animal heads are installed in the order of the traditional Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
  • 2016 is the Year of the Monkey.
  • Each sculpture stands roughly 10 feet tall.
  • The sculptures range in weight from 1,500 to 2,100 pounds each.


Project Back Story

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is based on the twelve bronze zodiac animals that once adorned a water clock-fountain sited in the elaborate European-style gardens of the Yuanming Yuan (Summer Palace). In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the palace was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged. Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is a re-interpretation of these animal heads that calls attention to the issue of looting and repatriation of art treasures.


“Centrally located, the Rings Fountain is one of the most adored and culturally diverse attractions on The Greenway. 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.

“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. 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.”

– Lucas Cowan, public art curator, Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy


About the Artist

Ai Weiwei is considered China’s most prolific and provocative contemporary artist. His work explores culture, history, politics, and tradition, often blurring the lines between art and activism. A few of his best known projects are the National Olympic Stadium (“the Bird’s Nest”) for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing; @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz in 2014-15, a series of site-specific installations which raised questions about freedom of expression and human rights; and his plan to create portraits of freedom advocates using Lego bricks. Ai Weiwei’s work confronts the repressive acts of the Chinese authorities; his activities have caused him to be physically harmed and restrained from travel outside China.

For more information about Ai Weiwei and his artwork, please visit


Additional Work by Ai Weiwei in Boston

Ai Weiwei’s “Forever” (2003) and “Snake Ceiling” (2009) will be presented as part of Megacities Asia at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) from April 3-July 17, 2016. Representing the unique urban environments of select Asian “megacities” with populations of 10 million or more (Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai, New Delhi and Seoul), 11 artists will display large-scale sculptures and installations, including loans and site-specific works created in real time at the MFA.

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