A group of 12 gold-plated animal head sculptures by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has sold for £2.8 million ($4.3 million) at the Phillips auction house in London on February 12.
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, which features 12 sculptures representing the Chinese zodiac, set a new auction record for the artist.
Ai Weiwei has made a number of versions of the zodiac sculptures, but this was the first complete set to come to auction.
The artist’s previous auction record of $1.2 million was set by Map of China last April.
The zodiac sculptures were inspired by a set of smaller sculptures that formed an 18th Century fountain clock at Emperor Yuanming Yuan’s Beijing imperial retreat.
The fountain clock was ransacked by French and British troops in 1860. Ai Weiwei worked from the seven surviving originals and imagined the five others, using images found in tapestry and print.
“This set of 12 heads continues Ai Weiwei’s tradition of re-interpreting cultural objects whilst questioning perceptions of authenticity and value,” auction house Phillips said in a press release.
The sculptures, which sold to one of three telephone bidders, were originally purchased from the Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York.
Several larger versions of the same sculptures have been cast in bronze and have been displayed in both New York’s Grand Army Plaza and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
Millions of people across the world are preparing to celebrate Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, the most important annual holiday in much of Asia.
Chinese New Year begins on Sunday, when the new moon is seen in the sky.
In the Chinese zodiac, this year will be the year of the snake, taking over from the dragon of 2012.
In China, an estimated 200 million people are travelling to be with their families in what is considered the biggest mass human migration on Earth.
Vast crowds of people have passed through railway stations, airports and bus stations onto crowded transport, many of them making journeys of thousands of miles, sometimes lasting several days.
Migrant workers in China often only have one holiday a year in which to visit their home towns, and will be taking the money they have saved back to their families.
“For Chinese, the most important thing is to be with family. Family always comes first,” Jin Yuan, a 34-year-old worker in Beijing told Reuters.
“No matter how busy I am, I must go home. That is why so many people in Beijing are travelling home for the Lunar New Year.”
Vietnamese media said tens of thousands of people were also on the move there.
Markets and shops across the region have been selling red and gold decorations – colors considered lucky – for the past few weeks, bearing messages wishing good fortune and prosperity.
Chinese New Year begins on Sunday, when the new moon is seen in the sky
“Tet is an important event and the house must be decorated,” said Dam Duc Thong, a shopper in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, using the Vietnamese name for the holiday.
“I buy these ornaments with hope to bring good luck to my family.”
Traditional foods associated with long life or good luck are a key part of lunar new year festivities.
“I’m slicing the rice cake so that people can make rice noodle soup during the holidays,” said Oh Jung-sook, a 72-year-old rice cake seller in the South Korean capital, Seoul.
“People say that eating rice noodle soup can keep them healthy, age one more year and have no unfortunate events for the family throughout the year.”
The new year is traditionally brought in with fireworks and firecrackers, but residents of Beijing have been asked to set off fewer this year, in an attempt to minimize additional pollution in the frequently smog-bound city.