Ai Weiwei's 'Zodiac Heads' Unveiled in New York Despite Artist's Absence

Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads now on view in New York City, May 4, 2011. (Elaine Merguerian)

A steady, cold spring rain did not deter some 200 people from attending this morning's official opening of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads outdoor installation at Central Park's Grand Army Plaza in New York City, following its postponement earlier this week.

"Today, we stand in solidarity with the millions of people around the world who are hoping that Ai Weiwei is quickly and safely released," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his introduction, referring to the artist's ongoing detention in China.

"Artists risk everything to create. They risk failure. They risk rejection. They risk public criticism. But artists like Ai Weiwei, who come from places that do not value and protect free speech, risk even more than that. His willingness to take those risks, and face the consequences, speaks not only to his courage, but also to the indomitable desire for freedom that is inside every human being." You can watch and read the Mayor's full comments here.

Standing at his side were 12 of the city’s cultural leaders and prominent artists, including Commissioner Kate Levin, Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu, and artists Shirin Neshat and Bill T. Jones, who each read passages of Ai Weiwei’s writings. You can watch their appearances below.

Reflecting on the event afterwards, Chiu commented, "Ai Weiwei spent nearly a decade living here in New York and one could perhaps say that some of his actions in Beijing both as an artist and political activist were in some way based on his time here. The idea that New York City is a place of cultural expression and freedom is a point that was not lost on those who attended the launch this morning." You can read Chiu's recent commentary on Ai Weiwei and the role of the artist in China in the New York Times Room for Debate.

If you're in New York, come see Ai Weiwei's sculptures, just reviewed in The New York Times, they're on view until July 15.