Xu Zhen

Hong Kong Tatler - - Features -

“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.

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