THIS morning (February 28) at the National Gallery of Australia, an extraordinary art work was being installed — a cavalcade of white Greek-style sculptures featuring everyone from Zeus to Jesus—but what I saw was only half of it.
“Xu Zhen: Eternity VS Evolution” will showcase 14 of the artist’s works, from early videos to more recent monumental sculptures, as well as a series of performances of his work, “In Just a Blink of an Eye” in August.
“European Thousand-Armed Classical Sculpture” is a work by one of China’s most celebrated younger generation artists and will be seen in the new show, “Xu Zhen: Eternity VS Evolution”, jointly curated by the NGA and the White Rabbit Collection in Sydney.
The huge work mixes the familiarity of classical European sculptures and eastern religious imagery of a multi-armed deity, perhaps the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin.
Co-ordinating curator for the coming show and the NGA’s curatorial and programs coordinator, Peter Johnson, said that this would be the first solo show of works by Xu Zhen to be seen in Australia, and it would cover earlier works that reacted against a controlling society and his more contemporary art, reflecting the explosion of global culture and new media.
Xu Zhen, Johnson thought, was the perfect example of the principle that “contemporary art is by its nature global”.
He said the artist was interested in how globalisation intersected with ideas around the body, alienation, trade, control and the commodification of culture, a focus which had led him to establish the MadeIn Company, a factory-like cultural production corporation, in 2009.
“Eternity VS Evolution” would also, he added, celebrate the international debut of “Hello” 2018-19, a creepy, moving Corinthian column-like snake that will watch and follow visitors as they move through the gallery. In China, he told “CityNews”, Corinthian columns were associated with bathhouses and karaoke bars, but in the west, with bank buildings, giving Xu Zhen an opportunity to comment on twisted perceptions that emerge when different cultures meet.
So if you feel like you’re being watched, you probably are – as the artist has said, quoting Nietzsche: “If you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.”
“Xu Zhen: Eternity VS Evolution”, at the National Gallery of Australia from March 14 to September 13. Entry free.