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Three Heads Six Arms
The sculpture lit up at night with a skyscraper behind it
The sculpture in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong (2011)
Artist Zhang Huan
Year 2008 (2008)
Type Sculpture
  • Copper
  • steel
Website Official site

Three Heads Six Arms (Chinese: 三頭六臂; pinyin: Sān tóu liù bì) is a sculpture by Chinese artist Zhang Huan. The work, composed of copper and steel, is 27 feet (8.2 m) tall and weighs 15 short tons (14 t). From May 2010 to February 2011, the sculpture was installed at the Joseph L. Alioto Performing Arts Piazza in San Francisco's Civic Center, before moving to Hong Kong later that year from May to July. A slightly modified version was exhibited in Florence in 2013.

The copper sculpture is the artist's largest work to date. Three Heads Six Arms is part of a larger series of monumental works by Zhang depicting the arms, legs, feet, hands, and heads of Buddhist sculptures.

Design and construction

San Francisco Chronicle (June 13, 2010)

The Buddhist sculpture-inspired series was sparked by several fragments of Buddhist statues that had been purchased by the artist in a Tibetan market; they were remnants from larger works that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Zhang retired from performance art shortly after moving from New York City to Shanghai and acquiring the first fragments.

Three Heads Six Arms, completed in 2008, was the largest piece in the series to date, measuring 800 cm × 1,800 cm × 1,000 cm (26 ft × 59 ft × 33 ft). Zhang started with draft sketches in ink. Based on these drafts, his assistants created a scale model in clay measuring approximately 152 cm × 152 cm × 91 cm (5 ft × 5 ft × 3 ft), which was used to build another model in steel and glass. The hands and body of the steel and glass model were used by the copper workshop to build the sculpture. For shipping, the sculpture can be broken into nine pieces; it took three days to assemble the sculpture on Civic Center Plaza using a team of eight to ten people, a forklift, and a crane. The sculpture is assembled from the inside; the arms are used as exits until the last arm is attached, and a hidden trapdoor in one head allows the technicians to leave the completed piece.

The faces were created by adding clay over a welded steel armature; the clay-and-steel buck was used as a form to shape the hammered copper skin. After the copper skin was formed, the pieces were welded together to form the head. The sculpture was inspired by Zhang's connection of the Chinese folk religion protection deity Nezha with Tibetan Buddhist sculptures; of the three faces, two used human features (including a self-portrait of the artist) and the other one retained the Buddha's features. The weld joints were deliberately left unfinished. According to Zhang: "When using pieces of copper to make Buddhist images, I like to keep the original character of the copper and the traces of the welding. For me, pieces of copper are like stitched skin after an operation."

Derivative works

A smaller version entitled Small Three Heads Six Arms (Chinese: 小三頭六臂; pinyin: Xiǎo sān tóu liù bì) was completed in 2011, measuring 135 cm × 244 cm × 156 cm (53 in × 96 in × 61 in); it was shown at the Storm King Art Center near Mountainville, New York, in 2014.

For the 2014 Taoyuan Land Art Festival in Taoyuan, Taiwan, a similar copper and steel sculpture with multiple heads and arms entitled The Six Paths of Transmigration (Chinese: 六道轮回; pinyin: Liù dào lún huí) was on display at the decommissioned Taoyuan Air Base between September 4 and September 14, 2014. This sculpture was slightly smaller than the earlier Three Heads Six Arms (2008) at 1,026 cm × 1,228 cm × 832 cm (34 ft × 40 ft × 27 ft).

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