The Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy has been raising the stakes in its pursuit of public art, and on Monday a few of them just happen to be topped with bronzes of animal heads. “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” a work by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei newly installed in the 1.5-mile park, is the first of several art pieces scheduled to appear as the weather warms, including three more works commissioned specifically for the Greenway.
Situated around the park’s Rings Fountain, “Zodiac Heads” consists of 12 bronze-cast, pole-mounted animal heads, one for each sign of the Chinese zodiac. The conversations to be spurred by the piece, said Lucas Cowan, the Conservancy’s public art curator, makes it a good introduction to the incoming season.
“These are bronzes, and people may see them as bronzes, but there’s such a deeper meaning to them,” Cowan said. “Everything we do with public art here, we want to challenge the notion of what public art can be.” The work’s nod at the idea of place — Ai based his heads on a similar set that was pilfered from a Chinese palace in the 1800s, also installed around a fountain — also helps fit it into the Greenway’s collection at large.
“Monkey See,” a 750-pound metal sculpture commissioned from New Mexico artist Don Kennell, according to Cowan, will be the next work to be installed. It deals with the same theme in its own way. “It’s a giant, 10½-foot-tall red monkey that’s standing there staring at you, wondering ‘why am I here?’ and ‘why are you here?’ at the same time,” Cowan said. “It’s kind of a quizzical look.”
The Conservancy tapped Kennell, some of whose previous sculptures were featured prominently at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, for a different zodiac-related endeavor: Honoring the Year of the Monkey, Kennell’s “Monkey See” will occupy the same spot in Chinatown Park that last year — the Year of the Sheep — housed Kyu Seok Oh’s “Wandering Sheep.”
The Greenway will also host work by two Massachusetts artists, Carolina Aragón and Gianna Stewart. The pair received the commissions through “The Local,” a conservancy initiative open only to artists residing in the Commonwealth.
“We have such a vast array of talent within the Commonwealth and within our educational institutes that I needed to see what was out there,” Cowan said. “I put no criteria.”
Aragón’s “High Tide,” planned for the North End, will consist of 500 6- to 8-foot-long fiberglass rods, topped with colored glass lenses that will spin to catch light. “You have this idea of almost shimmering water everywhere, but also showcasing this idea of a marsh, and what the harbor was up by the North End,” Cowan said. Stewart’s “Midden,” which will be installed between Dewey Square and Chinatown Park, will use five clusters of clear resin oyster shells to reference the shells unearthed while the Big Dig tore through the passage. (They’ll also glow at night.)
The three works are slated to join “Zodiac Heads” (which is on display through Oct. 21) and the Greenway’s other existing installations in late May. A parkwide kick-off scheduled for May 19 will feature performances, food trucks, and artist appearances.
“It’s everything the Greenway really is, and so I wanted to show it all at one time,” Cowan said. “It’s like one giant party.”