Thursday, March 8, 2012


Sao Paulo, New York City, London, Los Angeles, Taipei...The exhibition of the 12 Zodiac heads from Ai Weiwei arrived in Houston, March 3 and is located at Herman Park till June 3. The park is within walking distance of the Museum of Fine Art Houston and the Rice University campus.

I had been browsing at the site and found out I would be in Houston during the sculptures tour and it was with anticipation that I walked on the Plaza near the lake but also some concerns that I might be deceived.
The sculptures are at a perfect location near the zoo, along the lake. One can look at them with child's eyes: giant animal heads (standing 10 feet tall on their pedestals, weighing 800 lbs each) not too scary and parents were carrying toddlers on their shoulders to pet them.
The history of the sculptures give them another dimension. The originals were made in China by two European Jesuits (one Italian, one French) for the Old Summer Palace outside Beijing, a la mode of the European Chinoiseries. They were looted by English and French troops during the second Opium War in 1860. In 2009, a controversy brought the sculptures back on the international scene, when two of the heads came up for sale at the auction of Yves Saint-Laurent's estate. The Chinese government claimed them as a national treasure and attempted to stop the sale. West, East, West, should they return to China?

Ai Weiwei recreated the sculptures, some of them copies, others his own interpretation. I relish the very Chinese dragon and the very Gallic rooster.

The international venue for the exhibition reminds us of a shrinking world and brings up bigger questions like art and war, destruction of art and in the process destruction of memory, of a culture and assimilation.

The artist states: " I want this piece to be seen as an object that doesn't have a monumental quality, but rather is a funny piece, a piece people can relate to or interpret on many different levels, because everybody has a zodiac connection."
In the spirit, I looked at the Snake, my Chinese zodiac animal. I am also a Capricorn for the Western zodiac.
photographs by the author at Herman Park in Houston (on a rainy day)

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