Perrotin Seoul is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Chinese artist Xu Zhen, featuring major works spanning the development of his flagship art brand, Xu Zhen, since 2013.
Using both conceptual and pop strategies, Xu Zhen’s practice mounts incongruous clashes between iconographies pertaining to distant cultures, civilizations and ages to question the loss of context induced by globalization. Ironically mirroring post-Mao China’s journey into consumerism, Xu transforms himself into a brand with the creation of his art corporation “MadeIn Company” in 2009 as a behavioral – and almost performative – study of the symmetries between ideas, art and business.
On display is his signature Under Heaven series, which was featured in the 2014 Armory Show in New York to serve the commercial campaign for the fair. Florae of vibrant colors are skillfully figured using cream piping bags filled with oil colors, evoking the luscious icing on a birthday cake. Fragrant and fragile, joyful and decadent, this subconscious blur of decipherable imagery and extraneous elements alludes to economic growth as a sumptuous, moveable feast – a metaphor for the globalized hedonism in China. Conversely, Xu also sees his pop-like “cake painting” as a collective representation of childhood revelries and excess, a visual referent capable of conjuring each individual’s inner experience. Considered thus, Under Heaven reveals the duality of a sign system at the threshold between principled art and superficial beauty; one which, as Barthes would say, “draws attention to its own arbitrariness – which does not try to palm itself off as “natural” but which, in the very moment of conveying a meaning, communicates something of its own relative, artificial status as well.” 1 This harks back to Xu’s work from the 90’s, a time of ambiguities and conceit amidst political recovery and economic boom.
Here, Xu reiterates his interrogation of art – its authority, competence and limitations – vis-à-vis his consciousness of the world in the spirit of Deng Xiaoping’s apocryphal exhortation, “To become rich is glorious”. Eternity is a series of sculptural installations that amalgamate archetypes of art history and great civilizations. The collision between cultural symbols allows Xu to subtly touch upon the various power struggles in human history, a leitmotif that continues with his more recent canvas series titled Evolution. Embodying the violent nature of cultural hybridization, the pairings of traditional African and Chinese motifs further problematize the loss of meaning and context induced by the precipitation of globalization in the digital era. Here we return to the idea of an arbitrary “sign” – ever elusive to the museum or gallery visitor – which hints at the great divide we are so accustomed to in the age of post-truth and post-Internet where nothing is quite as it seems. A similar concern with appearance and truth underlies the Metal Language series, wherein phrases from political cartoons are presented in an intensive manner using metal chains applied to a mirroring surface. The graffiti-like composition seemingly celebrates the radical political language it concerns, at the same time as it is betrayed by the extravagance of the metallic gloss. This contradiction plunges the work into a suspended state, halfway between meaningfulness and meaninglessness.
Founded by artist Xu Zhen in 2013, XU ZHEN® is the flagship art brand of MadeIn Company, which pivots on the idea of artistic production as a framework for creation, discussion and curating exhibitions. Xu Zhen has described the company as a mode of how conceptual art is usually perceived, “We all hope this thing is made, and someone is there behind it […] [This] represents a method and not content, although we can still insert content into the methodology.”
Born in 1977, living and working in Shanghai, Xu Zhen is a leading Chinese artist and curator, and the founder of MadeIn Company. He has exhibited an extensive body of work across photography, installation and video at international museums and biennales, such as: Guggenheim Museum, New York (2017); Sydney Biennial (2016); Al Riwaq Art Center, Qatar (2016); Long Museum, Shanghai (2015); Armory Show, New York (2014); Lyon Biennial (2013); Hayward Gallery, London (2012); Tate Liverpool (2007); MoMA PS1, New York (2006); Venice Biennale (2001, 2005); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2005); and The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2004), among others. In 2004, he won the prize for ‘Best Artist’ at the China Contemporary Art Award.
In 2006, Xu Zhen co-founded Art-Ba-Ba (www.art-ba-ba.com), a leading online forum for discussion and critique of contemporary art in Shanghai. In 2009, he established ‘MadeIn Company’, a contemporary art creation corporate, focused on the production of creativity, and devoted to the research of contemporary culture’s infinite possibilities. In 2013, MadeIn Company launched XU ZHEN®. In 2014, MadeIn Company established MadeIn Gallery and in November 2016 launched the first “Xu Zhen Store” in Shanghai.