With a degree from the Nanjing Arts Institute and an MFA from Germany’s Braunschweig University of Art, this conceptual multidiscipline artist is a product of the new China—international yet also Chinese, with one foot firmly in the East and the other in the West.
Xu’s Currency Wars series reflects global concerns about economic, social and political issues. He magnifies and abstracts watermarks from the banknotes of various currencies, resulting in bold geometric paintings. They touch on the earlier abstraction and minimalism of US artists such as Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd and Frank Stella, yet also draw from ’80s street art culture—a strong influence on the artist when he was growing up. The series is a tonguein-cheek commentary on collecting and the commodification of art, one in which Xu has literally reduced art to money.
Xu displays the paintings back-to-back on mobile stands, pairing new notes with old ones from each country. The outlines of the newer side are sharp and clean, while the older notes are blurred and the colours are muddied. The moveable stands challenge the traditional notions of art display, but they are also intended to serve as a metaphor for the circulation of currency. “The paintings can be moved, like the way currency moves and circulates,” the artist explains. Importantly, Xu groups specific currencies based on their respective countries’ relationships. For the foundation’s show, he exhibits his US dollar, euro and RMB paintings to reflect the dominant economic and geopolitical climate.
Bentu— Chinese Artists at a Time of Turbulence and Transformation runs until April; A Selection of Chinese Works runs until September 5.