Works by one of China’s most famous contemporary artists, Ai Weiwei, will be featured in an exhibition in Wyoming ‘s National Museum of Wildlife Art in the Jackson Hole valley. The installation, called Circle of Animals, will include the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, each weighing about 800 pounds, and will be on display from May 9th to October 11th. The exhibit in Wyoming will be unique from other iterations around the country and world in that it will be on display among nature, rather than enclosed in a museum.
Ai was inspired by the historical twelve zodiac animals there were once on display in China 150 years ago at the Old Summer Palace. The original statues were looted by Anglo-French troops during the Second Opium War. While the statues have been slowly recovered over the years, with two returned to China in 2013, five remain missing to this day. The Qing-era statues were designed by an Italian sculptor, and Ai’s oversized interpretation of them is supposed to raise questions regarding nationality and authenticity.
According to James McNutt, the President of the National Museum of Wildlife Art, there has been an increase in Chinese tourists to Jackson Hole. It has been part of the community’s business strategy to attract more tourists from Asia, especially China, over the last few years. Many visitors from China come to Wyoming for Yellowstone National Park, but discover the natural beauty of towns in the area. Some Chinese have become so enamored with the beauty of Jackson Hole that they choose to live in a replica of the town in China. Tourism is the second largest industry in Wyoming, and a record number of 10.1 million people visited the state in 2014, contributing about $3.3 billion to the economy.
Melissa Newcomb is a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.