Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/ Zodiac Heads is to cross the block at Phillips.
The 12 sculptures are based on the set that encircled a water clock at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.
In 1860, the palace was looted by French and British soldiers.
The theft of the zodiac heads still inspires anger in China
The bronze animal heads were among a number of priceless objects taken to Europe. In 2009, two of those animal heads came up for auction at Christie’s – to the anger of many in China.
As only nine of the heads are known to exist, Ai Wei Wei took it upon himself to complete the original zodiac.
Ai Weiwei explained: “Without twelve, it’s not a zodiac. So the idea was first, to complete it, and more important, to complete it the way I think it should be.”
Much of Weiwei’s work centres on authenticity and the way that objects come to be bound up with ideas of nationhood.
He said of the original zodiac: “It was designed by an Italian and made by a Frenchman for a Qing dynasty emperor, which actually is somebody who invaded China.
“So if we talk about ‘national treasure,’ which nation do we talk about?”
He produced two editions of this work, one in bronze and the other (the present example) plated with gold.
An unadorned bronze version, which was produced in a smaller run, sold for £3.4m ($4.3m) at Phillips in 2015.
The present specimen is one of 12 (eight plus four artist's proofs) and is valued at $2.5m-3.5m ahead of the May 18 sale in New York.
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