NEW YORK (Reuters) - Twelve large bronze animal heads by imprisoned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei were unveiled in New York, in what Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Wednesday described as a bitter sweet moment.
Weiwei had been due to attend the opening of the exhibition, called "Circle of Animals" in Central Park. It is made up of 12 bronze animal heads representing the 12 personalities of the Chinese Zodiac.
But he has not been heard from since he was detained by Chinese authorities at Beijing airport on April 3, an event that prompted strong international criticism. Chinese authorities have said he is being investigated for economic crimes, but have not given any specific details.
"Artists risk everything to create. They risk failure. They risk rejection. They risk public criticism," Bloomberg said. "But artists like Ai Weiwei, who come from places that do not value and protect free speech, risk even more than that."
"The fact that we do not know where he is or when he will be released, is very troubling," he said.
Each of the four-foot (1.2 meter) tall animal heads weighs about 800 pounds (363 kilograms) and stands atop large marble bases. They are inspired by the design of the fountain-clock of Yuanming Yuan, an 18th century imperial retreat near Beijing.
Weiwei is best known for designing the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing and creating "Sunflower Seeds," a London-based exhibition comprised of 100 million hand-painted porcelain seeds.
"Circle of Animals" will be displayed in New York until June 26 before going to London, Los Angeles, Houston, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. (Editing by Michelle Nichols and Deborah Charles)
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