“It’s a good time to be an artist in China,” says Xu Zhen. “Everything you make, you can sell.” Indeed, the artist, who initially created and marketed his work under the Madein Company brand, has certainly built a successful career as one of China’s art provocateurs. Xu established Madein (a “contemporary art creation company”) in 2009; the collective of artists collaborates on works under a unified “brand” akin to Warhol’s Factory. Xu is equal parts conceptual artist and entrepreneur, toying with the expectations and the inner workings of a frivolous and demanding art marketplace. “The reality is that an artist today is a brand. My responsibility is to make projects and profit.”
In his cavernous Shanghai space sits an assortment of works as diverse in their subject matter as in the media used. A large threedimensional textile collage featuring colourful animals and figures leans against one wall. On another hangs an icing-sugar painting that looks good enough to eat, with thick gobs of colourful paint squeezed through a pastry bag. There are “documentary” photographs, a large plush doll, classical-looking sculptures and a series of golden equine sculptures. “There’s no particular thread linking the works together,” explains Xu. “We have a wide range but no specific direction. We just follow our hearts.”
Underlying everything, however, is irony and cliché, as well as an obsession with consumerism, branding and advertising. Works from the artist’s Eternity series (2013–14), which are shown in Bentu, quite literally present a convergence of East and West in a tongue-in-cheek parody of global culture—artificial stone replicas of classical Greek sculptures and Buddhist religious figures are decapitated and awkwardly mashed together, attached at the neck.