XU ZHEN® at James Cohan Gallery
James Cohan Gallery, New York
29 of April – 30 June 2020
Xu Zhen is an artist who is keenly interested in hybridizing East with West, forging bonds through visual culture while also questioning the easy commodification of icons.
When viewed from the front, this procession of classical European sculptures creates the illusion of a many-armed Buddhist image of the Thousand-Armed Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion. This visual hybrid fuses together the great artistic and cultural traditions of east and west, exploring the way in which these cultures collide and how new forms can be created through exchange.
“I’m interested in the misunderstandings that can be created between East and West. How sometimes, when they confront one another, one cannot convince the other of its position and vice versa. It’s all about the viewer’s experience and background, and all the misunderstandings that can create.”
The Corinthian column first created in ancient Greece has become a symbol of power, prestige and western civilisation. In “Hello,” a kinetic column has come alive, taking the form of a snake, as it ominously watches and follows visitors move through the gallery. Meeting the sculpture’s gaze, the visitor is confronted with a dark void.
Born after Mao’s Cultural Revolution and amidst the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, Xu scrutinizes China’s role in an increasingly globalized economy. Unlike artists of an older generation, he is less focused on the overtly political and instead examines the relentless capitalistic urge which pervades so much of Chinese society.
As Xu Zhen remarked, “Nowadays, people believe in things by buying them.”
Xu Zhen achieves the sumptuous surfaces of the Under Heaven series by applying oil paint to the canvas with pastry-decorating bags. Exploring the idea of desire, consumption and cultural production, these paintings tempt the viewer with their luxurious surfaces and color palette. These works are an ironic take on the large-scale, abstract paintings popular in the contemporary art market.
As an observer of many cultures, Xu Zhen combs the internet for rich source material. The internet, a place where everyone is talking and no one is listening, provides opportunities for collision and unexpected inspiration. In the Metal Language works, Xu Zhen pulls phrases from the internet and political cartoons and places them in direct dialogue with one another.
“It is hard to define an artist as someone who just produces artworks. They are perhaps someone who changes the way people think.”
The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, has organized XU ZHEN ®: Eternity vs Evolution, the artist’s first major solo exhibition in Australia with the support of the White Rabbit Collection, Sydney. James Cohan would like to thank the National Gallery of Australia for organizing the exhibition.
The online viewing room is a selection of available works based on the museum’s exhibition.