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Ai Weiwei's Rose Kennedy Greenway Sculptures Will Be One-Ton Conversation Starters This Spring

Technically, they're bronzes of the heads of the animals of the Zodiac

The well-trodden Rose Kennedy Greenway is bringing a particularly stark work from particularly stark Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei to its Rings Fountain beginning in late April. Ai's "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads" is, on the surface, exactly what it sounds like: 12 mounted bronze statues of the heads of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

Like with so much of the artist's work, though, there are layers of meaning here. Ai himself designed the 10-foot-high figures, some of which weigh more than a ton, to highlight the looting and the repatriation of cultural treasures. European forces looted similar sculptures from a Chinese imperial palace in 1860. Then, again, they do represent the Zodiac, and everyone has a sign. Either way, they are sure to be among Boston's most memorable public art of 2016.

Sets of the sculptures have already appeared in cities as varied as Los Angeles, Taipei, and Paris. They will be in the Greenway through October. Incidentally, Ai, whose work is already on display at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, will also have exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts beginning in April, just when the Zodiac heads go up.