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Exhibit explores Chinese artist's interpretation of cultural clash

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-03-02 08:55
European Thousand-Armed Classical Sculpture by Chinese artist Xu Zhen. [Photo/nga.gov.au]

A Roman column moves like a serpent, and 19 European classic sculptures stand in a line like the Chinese Goddess of Mercy with one thousand hands. Chinese artist Xu Zhen explores the collision of cultures with his works.

From March 14 to September 13, 2020, his 14 works will be exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). The exhibition is named Xu Zhen: Eternity V.S. Evolution, which showcases the artist's work from early videos to more recent monumental sculptures.

"A leading artist of his generation, Xu Zhen grapples with the implications of globalization, not just in China, but around the world," said Nick Mitzevich, director of NGA.

"He deftly combines cultural forms with equal parts provocation and humor, exposing the fault lines between cultures and suggesting new ways of living together," he said.

Xu, based in Shanghai, is among China's younger generation of artists.

Coordinating curator Peter Johnson from NGA told Xinhua on Friday that the artist is interested in the way that different cultures meet. "Sometimes, they clash, sometimes they create new and beautiful forms out of that," he said.

Johnson noted that Xu's works are interesting because they have a sense of grandeur, are a little bit disconcerting and humorous.

One of the works at the entrance of the hall is called "Hello", which features a classic column. The form is normally used in banks or court houses in the West, but Xu said in China it sometimes appears in the place where people sing karaoke or public baths.

"The column has come alive as a serpent," said the curator. "As you enter the gallery, the serpent moves and follows you around the space. It's like it's almost poised to strike."

This is the first time the work is exhibited outside China, he added.

Another major work is called European Thousand-Armed Classical Sculpture 2014.

"It's a series of European sculptures, including Greek gods, the Statue of Liberty, and Jesus Christ," said Johnson. "They all lined up that they look like in a dance party. But when you view it from the front, they take on the form of the thousand-armed goddess of compassion, Guanyin."

"I'm drawn to such things because of what they say about power and what is valued in different societies," said Xu, who believed that the scale of his homeland is one of the inspirations for his colossal works.

Preparation for this exhibition took about a year.

"I think it's always important to try and increase the cultural dialogue and exchange between particular Australia and China, because we are such close neighbors," said Johnson.

He added that it is a good time for the exhibition now. After the COVID-19 outbreak, he noticed some "disappointing stories in the media about how people are viewing Chinese in Australia".

"So I think it's really important to show the amazing creativity and the depth of culture that China has," he said.

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