The Armory Show

March 6 - 9, 2014
Piers 92 & 94
New York City

ARTIST COMMISSION: XU ZHEN (MADEIN)

 

Xu Zhen (b. 1977, Shanghai) was chosen as the commissioned artist for The Armory Show 2014. A “chameleon of concept," he has built an extensive body of work that includes video, installation, performance, and photography. From theatrical merry pranks to quieter works playing on human sensitivity, Xu Zhen has developed a repertoire confronting social-political taboos within the context of contemporary China and beyond.

For this edition of The Armory Show, Xu Zhen placed his mark on key aspects of the fair’s look and feel. Paintings from his Under Heaven series, in which a pastry chef’s icing applicator is used to apply pigment to a temptingly delicious impasto, graced Armory Show collateral in the months leading up to the fair and on-site. These paintings, their title both a literal translation of a Chinese word meaning “the whole world" and a joking reference to Jeff Koons’s infamous Made In Heaven series, give the sense of an ambition to "have one’s cake and eat it too." Xu’s Action of Consciousness, a performative installation in which sculptures, many of them turning on easy juxtapositions of obvious symbols, are thrown into the air above a white cube where they can be seen for (and often understood in) mere seconds, occupied the center of the Focus: China section. His edition Currency’s Ideal, a plush toy of Rodin’s Thinker sitting atop a press spitting out dollar bills, was been commissioned to benefit the Museum of Modern Art.

“I am very honored to be named the The Armory Show 2014 Commissioned Artist. The fair offers an strong platform for exchange, and for dialogue around art, the market and its many interrelated institutions and ideas," said Xu Zhen.

Armory Focus: China curator Philip Tinari noted that “Xu Zhen’s participation will further activate many crucial questions meant to be raised by Armory Focus: China. Throughout his career, Xu Zhen has been at the forefront of critical thinking about the role of art and artists in contemporary China, engaging smartly and humorously with many of the big issues facing cultural production there today. It is also particularly thrilling that this year’s Armory Focus: China coincides with Xu Zhen’s major mid-career survey exhibition at UCCA in Beijing."

Noah Horowitz, Executive Director of The Armory Show noted, “Over the past decade, Xu Zhen has firmly established himself as one of the most insightful provocateurs of a younger generation of Chinese contemporary artists. We are thrilled to collaborate with him as the 2014 Commissioned Artist and through this initiative look forward to extending our fair’s legacy as a site for international dialogue and critical debate."

For more information on Currency’s Ideal, click here

For more information on Action of Consciousness, click here


ABOUT XU ZHEN

Coming of age in the underground art scene of the late 1990s, Xu Zhen (b. 1977, Shanghai) began showing in artist-organized exhibitions close to home and national surveys abroad. From the beginning, his work has turned on a stark humor borne of alternate amusement and shock at contemporary society’s special combination of knowing sophistication, residual certainty, and willful ignorance. In a gesture representative of his early practice, the Video Shouting (1998) shows a passing crowd cycle through shock into dismissal at the uncanny sound of a pained human cry. A few years later, at the invitation of the 2004 Shanghai Biennale, he sped up the hands of the clock at the top of the colonial racing club which then housed the museum so that hours passed in seconds.

In the years after 2005, his aesthetic metabolism expanded alongside his systemic role, and Xu Zhen evolved from a lone artistic practitioner into a multi-dimensional figure: curator, organizer, spokesman, webmaster. During the pre-Olympic years when the Chinese art system and market saw the most dizzying growth, his projects grew into ever more elaborate, winking simulacra: cutting the peak off of Mount Everest and exhibiting the result in a gallery, creating a full-size supermarket selling only empty packaging, restaging a controversial news photograph of a starving Sudanese child in a sprawling tableau vivant.

By 2009, frustrated with the overdetermined role of the singular artist in a larger system of cultural production and circulation, Xu Zhen shifted gears and began working under the alias MadeIn Company, an enterprise of his founding dedicated to “contemporary cultural creation." MadeIn’s various products—tapestry paintings combining disparate political cartoon characters, a set of cultural calisthenics inspired by an archetypal global spirituality, a “group exhibition" of works by fictional Middle Eastern artists built from a bank of the most obvious symbols—poked fun at tired assumptions by hinting at new, absurd possibilities. Consistent throughout is an urge to lay bare the persistent clunkiness of our dearest discourses and dichotomies, as perfectly embodied by a recent major sculpture, in which a bodhisattva from the Tianlongshan grottoes meets the Winged Victory of Samothrace in a neck-to-neck staging of East meets West.

If there is a common theme uniting his diverse bodies of work, perhaps it is the twinned drives to upend existing value systems and posit new ones, particularly those that may seem, at first, just beyond the realm of plausibility. If this work borders on cynicism, it also challenges us to take a brave leap, toward acknowledging the possibility that closest-held, most cherished beliefs just might be naïve fictions.

Xu Zhen won the Chinese Contemporary Art Award in 2004, and was the youngest Chinese artist to participate in the Venice Biennale (2001 and 2005). He has exhibited widely in major international museums and biennales, including the Venice Biennale (2001, 2005); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2004); International Center of Photography (2004); Mori Art Museum (2005); MoMA PS1 (2006); Tate Liverpool (2007); Hayward Gallery (2012); and the Lyon Biennale (2013). His mid-career retrospective, entitled “Xu Zhen: A MadeIn Company Production," was presented at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, in 2014.