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Chinese artist opens Australia show

XINHUA | Updated: 2020-03-05 07:35

CANBERRA-A Roman column moves like a serpent, and 19 classic European 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 art.

From March 14 to Sept 13, his work will be exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia. The exhibition, named Xu Zhen: Eternity vs Evolution, showcases the artist's work from his 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," says Nick Mitzevich, director of the 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 says.

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

Coordinating curator from the NGA, Peter Johnson, said in an interview 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 says.

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

One of the pieces 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 says that, in China, it sometimes appears in the places where people sing karaoke or at public baths.

"The column has come alive as a serpent," says 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 piece is exhibited outside China, he adds.

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," says Johnson. "They all line up so that they look like they're at 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," says Xu, who says 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 Australia and China, because we are such close neighbors," says Johnson.

He adds that it is a good time for the exhibition now. After the COVID-19 outbreak, he notices 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 says.

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