Sunday, July 7, 2013

Nine Deaths, Two Births: Xu Bing's Phoenix Project

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through September 2, 2013

I think this is the first time I've been to see an exhibit about an exhibit, and the experience was unsatisfying.

Xu Bing has constructed a massive sculpture of two birds currently on display at MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art).  The sculpture is composed entirely of construction debris from various worksites around Beijing.  This show is about the process of making the sculpture, from idea to shipment, but you don't get to see the finished project yourself, except in pictures and in the video that accompanies the display. 

The artwork was originally going to be on permanent display in Beijing, but the downturn in the economy caused the commission to be cancelled.  Undaunted, Xu Bing created his work and shipped it to MASS MoCA, so China's loss was western Massachusetts' gain.  In the words of the artist, "Phoenixes are an embodiment of the labor that lies behind today's prosperity."  One could also look at the phoenixes as symbolic of the reuse of trash - they rise from the literal ashes of construction.

Verdict:  This is the first time the Sackler has devoted a show to the creative process behind a work of art, so that's somewhat interesting, but without being about to see the finished product, it seems more academic than impressive.

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