Ai Weiwei's Animal Heads makes $4.3m at Phillips London

Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animal Heads (Zodiac) has sold for £2.8m ($4.3m) in Phillips' February 12 contemporary art sale in London.

This represents a new auction record for the artist.

The piece was inspired by a famous clock that once stood in the grounds of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.

Weiwei animal Zodiac
Ai Weiwei has spent time in prison in China for his dissident views

It was one of many treasures destroyed or stolen by European troops during the second opium war (1856-1860).

In 2009, two of the heads appeared in an auction at Christie's Paris. The high profile of the fountain in China sparked calls for the auction to be cancelled and the heads returned.

Weiwei explores the reaction in this piece.

Phillips commented prior to the sale: "The fountain's destruction became emblematic of a period of violent imperialist intervention in China often referred to as 'The Century of Humiliation,' and the wound is still raw��?

"Resplendent in beauty, the animals radiate the opulent inheritance of their ancient court setting; but the original heads - as well as Ai's larger alternate version of this work - were in fact unadorned bronze��?

"The set as a whole maintains glorious aesthetic coherence, challenging the idea that the original group was a work of perfection whose loss is an irredeemable tragedy."

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