The ViTRINE editorial team is fortunate to have the opportunity to view a major mid-career survey of mercurial Chinese artist Xu Zhen (b. 1977, Shanghai), one of the most interesting and promising artists working in China today at the UCCA. An irreverent artist with a voracious appetite for global information and a unique ability to produce work across multiple platforms and media, Xu Zhen is a key figure in the Shanghai art scene and a foundational figure for the generations of Chinese artists born since 1980. The exhibition is curated by UCCA Director Philip Tinari and UCCA Chief Curator Paula Tsai.
A prankster provocateur in the vein of Yves Klein, Xu Zhen engages a variety issues with his characteristic wryness, from the politics of intercultural and international viewing in Seeing One’s Own Eyes: Middle East Contemporary Art (a ”group show” of works by fictional Middle Eastern artists), to voyeurism and ethical anxiety in depictions of race and suffering in The Starving of Sudan (an in-gallery tableau recreating Kevin Carter’s iconic 1994 photograph of a starving infant), to satire of de rigeur contemporary art practices in 8848-1.86(wherein the artist ”removes” a chunk of Mount Everest equivalent to his own height from the summit and brings it back for display in the museum). Presented together, Xu Zhen’s oeuvre reflects the lingering concerns of an artist participating in the international art world while remaining deeply skeptical of it and its conventions, most immediately the label ”Chinese contemporary art.” Xu Zhen’s artworks probe the various mediations that corrupt the viewer’s experience of an artwork, particularly in observing a culture that is not one’s own.
”Xu Zhen: A MadeIn Company Production” includes a number of Xu Zhen’s landmark works. His 1998 videoShouting, in which the artist lets out pained shouts on crowded city streets, only to capture the sequential shock and dismissal of hundreds of passers-by, made him the youngest Chinese artist to date to be included in the Venice Biennale. His 2007 installation Shanghart Supermarket, which takes the shape of a Shanghai convenience store fully stocked with packaging that has been emptied of content, sold for the price of the putative objects, was widely debated when it debuted at Art Basel Miami Beach at the height of the last art-market bubble. In Physique of Consciousness Museum, Xu Zhen uses various social, religious, and political criteria to array archaeological and ethnographic artifacts—actually just mounted photographs of the same—without respect to place or time of origin.
The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) is an independent, not-for-profit art center serving a global Beijing public. Located at the heart of Beijing’s 798 Art District, it was founded by the Belgian collectors Guy and Myriam Ullens and opened in November 2007. Through a diverse array of exhibitions with artists Chinese and international, established and emerging, as well as a wide range of public programs, UCCA aims to promote the continued development of the Chinese art scene, foster international exchange, and showcase the latest in art and culture to hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.