Ai Weiwei installation 'Circle of Animals' sells for $5.4 million

Ai Weiwei installation 'Circle of Animals' sells for $5.4 million
Part of the Ai Weiwei installation "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads" on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in August 2011. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Ai Weiwei, the controversial Chinese artist, realized an auction record on Monday when his installation "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads" sold for 3.4 million British pounds (about $5.4 million) at a Phillips auction in London, though the selling price came in at the low end of estimates.

A conceptual reconstruction of the animals of the Chinese zodiac that once stood at the palace of Yuanming Yuan but was looted during the 19th century, "Circle of Animals" has traveled around the world, including stops at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York's Central Park.

Ai's installation is the first from an edition of six. The edition sold on Monday was the same one that was seen at LACMA and in New York, said the auction house. 

Phillips had estimated that the work, which was being sold by a private collector, would go for between 3 million and 5 million pounds.


The selling price is the highest that a work by Ai has realized at auction. Earlier this year, another version of his zodiac heads sold for approximately 2.8 millions pounds ($4.3 million) at a Phillips auction.

The artist is famous for his online activism and legal troubles with the Chinese government. He was put into secret detention for several weeks in 2011. His retrospective show "Ai Weiwei: According to What?" has traveled the country and has been seen at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington and the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

He was the subject of the 2012 documentary "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" and more recently worked on the site-specific installation "@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz."

Monday's auction saw a total of approximately $29 million in sales.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT