今年的卡塞尔文献展策展人之一 Monika Szewczyk 曾这样写到：“诚然，徐震并不是第一个从个人转型为公司的艺术家，更多的艺术家选择不动声色的做这些事以使操作性与利益最大化。但没顶公司至少在一方面是特殊的：公司的生产越发地被理解为对“天国”概念的思索状态——它不提供给你关于天国的清晰图景（像宗教可能会做的那样），而是将其抽象化为一个问题。” “天下”系列的名字与天国比喻可谓不谋而合。这一系列的画作曾作为2014年军械库艺博会的整体视觉呈现，为艺博会的商业功能服务。极富景观意味的绚烂色彩被油画颜料一层层地堆叠成型，奶油裱花袋替代了传统画笔，在巧妙经营的图层和形态中造就了一派让人口舌生津的视觉盛宴。“天下”成功架空了艺术与商业的矛盾性——这也透露出徐震的策略，相较于针对看似坚不可摧的景观魔障，不如借由这样的力量，达成自身的自治。
Perrotin Paris, is proud to present Civilization Iteration, the first solo exhibition of Chinese artist Xu Zhen with the gallery, which will showcase Xu’s important series of works since 2013 when he started a brand in his own name. “Iteration” refers to the way of achieving a desired result through repeated feedback. The exhibited series will show how an artist, amidst increasing globalization and networking of art, can approach the future of art with his own formula.
As early as 2001, Xu participated in the 49th Venice Biennale, then the youngest Chinese artist to exhibit works at this international art event. Having made a name at 20 as an artist, he has since created a large number of works based on his own consciousness. The passage from one century to the next brought with it not only socio-economic but also cultural changes, the latter deeply influencing Xu as an artist. The great divide of his career came in 2009 when he established the art creation enterprise MadeIn Company in Shanghai. Since then his works have been produced in a corporate fashion and his “artist” identity has been plunged into the center of controversy. Meanwhile, Xu’s creative focus has begun to shift to the relationship between art and business.
Monika Szewczyk, a curator of this year’s Kassel Documenta, once said, “To be sure, Xu Zhen is not the first artist to transform himself into a company, and countless others incorporate more quietly to maximize their income and maneuverability. But MadeIn may be special in at least one respect: The company’s production could be understood increasingly to contemplate the notion of heaven – not offering up a clear picture the way religious authorities might, yet keeping this abstraction in focus as a question.” The title of the Under Heaven series echoes heaven as a metaphor. The paintings appeared in the 2014 Armory Show in New York to serve the commercial campaign for the fair itself. Layers and layers of oil paint form an ornate “landscape”, and with the skillful depiction and figuration of a cream piping bag (not a paint brush!), they make up an enticing visual banquet. The series manages to transcend the opposition between art and business, which exemplifies Xu’s creative strategy: rather than addressing the big spectacle issue head on, one might as well turn it into a positive account by creating a new approach of one’s own.
This way of thinking explains why Xu is so fluent in using visual symbols from popular culture. In the Metal Language series, phrases from political cartoons are presented in an intensive manner on a mirror-finished metal surface. The graffiti-like composition seemingly agrees with the radical stance of the political language but is in fact betrayed by the extravagance of the metallic gloss. This inner contradiction throws the works (and even their producer) into a suspended state of meaningfulness.
Because of their metallic and creamy landscapes, Xu’s works have been classified as pop art, even though the label apparently can apply only to some of his works. In terms of creative logic and cultural appropriation, Xu has no doubt gone beyond pop art. For instance, his series Eternity and Evolution all reference a far more expansive, long-lasting civilized world than the consumer society. Ancient art pieces, Dunhuang frescoes from the Silk Road’s heyday, representative modernist sculptures of the West…when we see these cultural symbols repeatedly change shape or re-combined in new ways, we cannot help but feel an implosion of meaning set off by the accumulated spiritual force of culture.
This force comes not only from the cultural symbols being used; it is in a way more the cultural changes induced by the globalizing Internet. In a modern context, we tend to identify Greek sculptures solely by their greyish white plaster, forgetting that they were originally divine statues with colors. The truth behind cultural relics is ever elusive to the museum visitor. People even turn to the Net, using search engines to make up their own pictures of the origins of civilization. Between the colorful Greek statues and the modern white plaster versions, and the Acropolis in Athens and sculpture photos on electronic screens, is the loss of a common context. And it is because we are so accustomed to this cultural reality that the two contrasting series Eternity and Evolution appear all the more harmonious and splendid to us.
From the “individual artist period” when he concerned himself with the consciousness of identity, to “Xu Zhen brand”, Xu has moved on to repeatedly examine the current culture. The transition is nothing less than a reflection of the tremendous changes in human history over the past decades. Admittedly, the extension of consciousness unleashed by the Internet has eliminated temporal and spatial disparity. Yet, in the process, cultural learning in the traditional sense has been destroyed by information overload, giving way to recurrent cultural stagnation and dysfunctional standards. The information highway makes one feel unreal, so much so that the boundaries between meaning, values and reality gradually blur. Living in this “post-truth” age, one begins to see why Xu should uphold “iteration” as an effective way of responding to a postmodern society. For in the course of time, after endless destruction and reconstruction, the boundless reformulations are sure to open up a new paradigm for civilization in the present.