James Cohan presents a solo exhibition by the multi-disciplinary Chinese artist Xu Zhen. The show will be on view from September 8 to October 8, 2016 with an opening reception from 6 to 8pm on Thursday, September 8.
In 2009 Xu Zhen subsumed his individual artistic identity and transformed into MadeIn—an “art creation company.” Subsequently in 2013, MadeIn launched a brand—Xu Zhen, redundantly making Xu a product of his own corporation. Xu works within many different media and thematic structures, making him an enigmatic yet groundbreaking figure in Chinese contemporary art—a role that he gleefully accepts. Of his work, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, director of the Serpentine Galleries, London, writes, “Xu’s sociopolitical appraisals distance him from the herd of contemporary Chinese artists. And the breadth of his practice, in all its seeming spontaneity and surprising inflections and turns, only complicates the attempt to pin him down to any single position within his country’s art scene—or, indeed, within cultural production at large.” The works in this exhibition examine the human experience of pain, pleasure and desire as well as the aesthetic manipulation of consumers in late capitalist societies.
The exhibition will present a large-scale sculpture from the Eternity series, Xu’s 1998 film Rainbow, selections from his Under Heaven paintings and a new wall installation, Corporate – (Erected), produced this year. Xu’s oeuvre questions the validity of an East-West dichotomy with great skepticism. Xu’s Eternity sculptures are a mash-up of Hellenistic and Buddhist statuary, creating three-dimensional, transcultural exquisite corpses. The result is a deftly composed work that carries the weight of history, yet acts as a sly statement about global similarities and differences. Eternity allows the sacred and the profane to exist in the same space, denying neither an ultimate importance.
In Rainbow, which premiered at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001, a bare back fills the screen and is repeatedly slapped until the skin turns an alarming shade of red. Although the slapping is audible, the hands themselves were removed through editing. The result is a visceral, aestheticized portrait of pain and endurance.
In contrast to Rainbow, the paintings from Xu’s ongoing “Under Heaven” series are a voluptuary dream. He applies a thick layer of oil paint to a canvas and then forms delicate petals and flowers using a cake decorator. The resulting impasto creates a striking relief, tempting the viewer to touch or even taste. The expansive title, “Under Heaven,” is a literal translation of a Chinese word meaning “the whole world.” The sumptuous surfaces as well as the allusive title make the works an intense sensual experience.
Corporate – (Erected) is a large-scale wall sculpture incorporating ready-made S&M paraphernalia. From afar, the work appears to be an exercise in gothic formalism; however, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that it is an assemblage of leather accessories and erotic toys. Xu intends the viewer to project his or her own cultural associations onto the sculpture and experience its meaning and associations in a very subjective way. Rarefying these salacious objects in a fine art evokes the idea of sexual pleasure—perhaps to an uncomfortable extent.
The works in this exhibition, united in their lush, eye-catching aesthetics, are representative of three primal human sensations—pain, pleasure and desire—and reveal how these emotions are consistently manipulated by the images that surround us.