Ai Weiwei's sculpture Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is the talking point of the upcoming contemporary art evening auction at Phillips, London on February 12. The collection of brass animal heads that depict the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, is appearing at auction in the timely week that falls before Chinese New Year 2015, with a pre-sale estimate of £2-£3 million. 

The collection, which was created five years ago, is inspired by sculptures originally created by an Italian artist, Giuseppe Castiglione, for Emperor Qianlong, who commissioned them in 1750 to be part of a water clock-fountain at his Old Summer Palace in Beijing. Though some of the originals were looted and lost, Ai Weiwei, used the remaining originals to inform the design of the missing animals, so that he could recreate an entire 12-piece set. 

"The Zodiac Heads is a seminal work by Ai Weiwei and Phillips is proud to be the first to offer a set at auction. The work continues Ai Weiwei's tradition of reinterpreting cultural objects while questioning perception of authenticity and value," said Peter Sumner, head of contemporary art at Phillips London.

Zodiac Heads

The designs have been produced in two versions, one small and one large, with six of each in existence. The large scale series is intended for outdoor display and stands at an imposing 10ft high, in bronze. The smaller collection is intended for indoor display and is plated in gold, standing at 20-30 inches. 

Philips will be holding a preview of the lot, at Phillips Brook Street gallery from February 2–6 2015. Ai Weiwei's statues will be in good company with works by many art world heavyweights including Andy Warhol, Allen Jones, Julian Schnabel and Antony Gormley also forming part of the auction's catalogue.