An iconic figure in contemporary Chinese art, Shanghai-based conceptual artist Xu Zhen works with a variety of media, including video, photography, performance, painting, sculpture and installation. He has developed a reputation for provocative works that challenge cultural assumptions and generate an active dialogue about the global art market, eastern conventions and western expectations. With characteristically irreverent humour, Xu Zhen explores the infinite possibilities of contemporary culture and freedom of expression by challenging social, psychological and moral taboos with the intention of encouraging audiences to consider complex issues from a broader, more open perspective.
In 2009, Xu Zhen established MadeIn Company, a corporate entity that gently mocks the contemporary art market, acting as a ‘contemporary art creation company’ and an agency that curates exhibitions, promotes artists, and engages in research, discussion and criticism. Playing on the positioning of China as a recent leader in the world contemporary art market, the name ‘MadeIn’ references late twentieth-century industrialisation and the phrase ‘Made in China’ as a signifier of cheap, mass-produced products and automated production lines. In 2013, MadeIn Company announced the brand ‘Xu Zhen’ in a further exploration and critique of the commodification of ideas and the global art market. Instead of running the company as its chief executive, the identity of the artist has become a product of the corporation.
At the Embassy of the Real, Xu Zhen presents Eternity – Longxing Temple Buddha Statue Part Three; Tang Dynasty Buddha Statue; Longxing Temple Buddha Statue Part Five; Northern Qi Amitābha Statue; Vairochana; the Cosmic Buddha; Hebei Northern Qi Dynasty Standing Buddha Torso; Parthenon East Pediment, 2013–14, a series of sculptural forms that reinterpret the meeting of eastern and western cultures. The work features replicas of ancient Greek sculptures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, thought to represent the moment of the birth of the goddess Athena, who sprang fully formed from the head of her father, Zeus. Where the heads of the Greek divinities are missing, Xu Zhen has replaced them with inverted reproductions of ancient Chinese statues of Buddhist deities, fusing them at the neck to create a hybrid eastern-western monument. By physically merging the sculptures, Xu Zhen creates a space for the reinterpretation of disparate cultures and religions, an opportunity for dialogue about the way aspects of different religions are selected, repurposed and assigned new meaning in contemporary society. Xu Zhen’s Eternity mirrors the way existing language structures, philosophies, realities and belief systems are fused and merged in an increasingly global civilisation influenced by rapidly developing technology, drawing together seemingly opposing ideas and ways of thinking to form new possibilities.
Xu Zhen has exhibited widely internationally, with solo exhibitions including ‘Corporate: Xu Zhen (Produced by MadeIn Company)’, Kunsthaus Graz (2015); ‘Xu Zhen Solo Exhibition’, Long Museum, Shanghai (2015); and ‘Xu Zhen – Produced by MadeIn Company’, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2014). Selected group exhibitions include ‘14 Rooms’, Foundation Beyeler, Basel (2014); ‘Art of Change: New Directions from China’, Hayward Gallery, London (2012); The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China’, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool (2007); and Chinese Pavilion, 51st Venice Biennale (2005).