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Kunsthaus Graz opens exhibition of works by Xu Zhen
Xu Zhen, "ShangART Supermarket", 2007/2015. Photo: Thomas Fuesser.

GRAZ.- Xu Zhen has been seen for some years as one of the most critical and at the same time most virtuosic of the leading figures of a younger generation of Chinese artists. He has already twice participated in group exhibitions at the Kunsthaus Graz: China Welcomes You (2007) and Life? Biomorphic Forms in Sculpture (2008). His solo show –as his first larger exhibition project adapted for the locality in Europe –is the result of an ongoing engagement with artistic output. His artistic strategies are thus a mirror of a rapidly evolving Chinese art scene. They employ an 'art of conforming', veering between a partial use of conceptual art up to Re-enactment, with an ironic critique of the system and a craftsman's precision. The often theatrical, highly provocative sculptures, pictures,Performances and films confront contemporary China with social-political and cultural taboos, and more besides. In Graz, too, the works on show, which can be produced serially in his 'MadeIn Company', comment on a short-lived, globe-spanning consumerist society. They ask where our behaviour will lead in future and create possible systems offering cultural and spiritual reconciliation.

The exhibited works cross boundaries,moving through levels that are not only political and cultural, but institutional, too. Sculptures that are amalgamations and copies are presented as new creations of a global culture, revealing the market and its regulations as the determining receptacleof artistic endeavour. To this Xu Zhen reacts brilliantly with his 'MadeIn Company'. The term 'MadeIn' refers to the commonly found label 'Made in China' and in Chinese (没顶公司) includes the word ‘company’.Thetwo characters ‘没顶’ pronounced ‘mei ding’mean‘without roof’as in ‘no limit’.

The significant work' Arrogance ' Set (2015) shows, among other things, a presumably bronze Poseidon, who has been settled on by pigeons reminiscent of Peking ducks. The sculpture Eternity –The Soldier of Marathon Announcing Victory, A Wounded Galatian (2014) unites beyond time and place an ancient Greek sculpture of the dying Athenianwith the injured Galatian, beyond political and stylistic borders to a marble, gleaming sculpture, thus becoming an eternal witness –not only figuratively pointing towards the sky –of a history of mankind marked by conquest.

The exhibition is presented as a quasi-military positioning of serial objects in Space01 at the Kunsthaus Graz, yet it also contains very funny, cheeky and at the same more muted tones: one sculpture that is part of the Eternity series and thus linking cultures marries in a headstand the eternal beauties of a bodhisattvaof the Chinese Sui dynasty with the Venus de Vienne from the Louvre in Paris.

The four video works Shouting (1998), Rainbow (1998), Physique of Consciousness (2011) and Twenty (2015), which, like the sculptures, are given the status of objects and when reproduced multiply preserve their position in the room, are references to Xu Zhen's provocative and at the same time performative approach, taking as their theme our interaction with the series, but also those with the forgery or fake in both the west and the east. The ShanghART Supermarket (2007/2015) can also be interpreted in the same way -which as an introduction to the exhibition not only abducts the public into a stereotypical China of trade, but also in the context of art makes use of such models as Warhol's serial Campbell's Soup Cans (1962) or Damien Hirst's Installation Pharmacy (1992), thereby mercilessly exaggerating the populist call for consumable, contemporary art by turning the platform of the institution into the marketplace for the goods on offer.

Corporate is an exhibition about prejudice and norms, about definitions of identity in connection with our cultural capital, about cultural heritage and its reworking under conditions of a conforming, global and above all consumer-based society. There is more on show than just an ironic engagement with images of west and east.

As a cunning form of self-marketing and annexation all in one, Corporate is to some extent a triumphant invasion of Europe by what is 'Chinese'. Xu Zhen's production firm 'MadeIn Company', which produces in all genres with the greatest precision and perfection, thus operates in the style of the 'new generation' of Asian artist producers. While Xu Zhen beguiles the public with the persuasive power of stereotypes, he toys with artistic colonialism, tongue-in-cheek.

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