Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei Photo courtesy Phillips Auctioneers
A group of 12 large bronze animal heads by China’s dissident artist Ai Weiwei this week led Phillips’s 18.2 million pound ($28.6 million) contemporary art evening auction in London.
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, which depicts the signs of the ancient Chinese zodiac, fetched 3.4 million pounds on Monday June 29, within its presale estimate of 3 million pounds to 5 million pounds but setting an auction record for the artist. It was also the top-selling lot in the sale.
The auction took place as global equities slumped amid concerns over fallout from Greece’s financial crisis. However, the art market did not appear to be concerned about global economic problems. It was the first of three big contemporary evening auctions in London this week, from Sotheby’s and Christie’s as well as Phillips.
The 50-lot sale’s tally exceeded the low estimate of 17.2 million pounds and was an 84 percent increase from Phillips’s auction a year ago, when 23 lots totaled 9.9 million pounds.
Ai’s animal heads are displayed on individual stands, with the largest piece, a rooster, at 12.5-feet-tall. The 2010 work, which is the first in an edition of six, has been exhibited at the Sao Paulo Biennale in 2010, New York’s Pulitzer Fountain near Central Park in 2011 and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington in 2012.
Ai’s previous auction record of 2.9 million pounds was set in February, also at Phillips, for a smaller, gold-plated version of the 12 zodiac animals. Set in the context of Ai Weiwei’s more challenging works, the Zodiac head series are rather more conservative and, indeed, appealing to the traditional collector.