NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City has honored an outspoken artist who couldn’t attend the opening of his sculpture exhibit in Manhattan because he is detained in China.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the speakers Wednesday at the exhibit by Ai Weiwei.

1010 WINS’ Stan Brooks reports: Bloomberg Criticizes The Chinese Government For Detaining The Artist 

“Artists risk everything to create,” Bloomberg said, standing before the 12 animal heads rising from Manhattan’s Pulitzer Fountain. “But artists like Ai Weiwei, who come from places that do not value and protect free speech, risk even more than that.”

The mayor said Ai’s willingness to take risks speaks to his courage, “but also to the indomitable desire for freedom that is inside every human being.”

Twelve bronze sculptures of animal heads, depicting the zodiac, are on display at the Grand Army Plaza positioned on marble bases in the basins of the Pulitzer Fountain at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue.  

Each sculpture weighs approximately 800 pounds and measures about four feet high and three feet wide; the head and base together are roughly 10 feet high.

The sculptures were inspired by the fabled fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan — a retreat outside of Beijing — which also featured animals of the Chinese zodiac. In 1860, the retreat was ransacked and the heads were pillaged. Only seven of the heads have been found.

New York City is the first stop in a six-city world tour of the Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads exhibition. It will also make stops in London, Los Angeles, Houston, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.

About a dozen people from the arts community, including filmmaker and artist Julian Schnabel, read quotes from the absent artist.

China’s Foreign Ministry says Weiwei is under investigation for economic crimes. Weiwei’s sister says he is being punished for speaking out about the communist leadership and social problems.

Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for Weiwei’s release.

Weiwei is best known for designing the 2008 National Olympic Stadium and for the Sunflower Seeds, an exhibition at London’s Tate Modern Museum which consisted of 100 million hand-painted porcelain seeds.

Bloomberg criticized the Chinese government for detaining the artists calling it “very troubling.”

“I believe what I believe and the results will be what they will be. If you start setting your beliefs based on what’s important to your pocket you’re not going to be a very happy person nor is society going to benefit,” Bloomberg said when asked if he was concerned that his strong statement might have an impact on his business dealings in China.

What do you think of the sculptures? Should New York City be featuring an exhibit of a detained artist? Sound off below

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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