Exhibition Duration: 21 November— 18 January 2014
The Nathalie Obadia Gallery exhibits Xu Zhen by MadeIn Company for the first time in Brussels, three years after his solo show in Belgium, at the SMAK in Ghent, during Europalia China.
Considered as the most original and most inventive artist of the young Chinese art scene in the wake of the previous generation with Cai Guo Qiang and Zhang Huan, Xu Zhen has gathered round him some twenty associates who have voluntarily opted to remain anonymous for the benefit of the group. Together, they take a critical stance that cocks a snook at today’s political, economic and cultural world which, according to its detractors, has yielded to the sirens of mass communication that numb the mind. MadeIn Company wants to stir the conscience of that world. It demythologises art and artists by providing an alternative blueprint for creativity where the strength of the group takes precedence over individual endeavours.
This attitude, which goes against the conventional rules of the art market, is a risk taken by Xu Zhen and his colleagues, who in turn enjoy greater freedom – a fragile concept, let us not forget, in the Middle Kingdom.
The synergy of MadeIn Company, which in a way is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Factory, is rooted in the end of the 1990s. Its initiator, Xu Zhen (born in 1977) left the benches of the Shanghai Arts & Craft Institute to produce his first subversive works (videos at the outset) that jostled the powers that be at once through the disturbing violence of their images. Regularly censured in China as pornography, his videos became the talk of the town, elucidating why Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi invited the young Xu Zhen to take part in the memorable exhibition entitled Fuck Off which was held at the same time as the third Shanghai Biennale in 2000.
In 2005, Xu Zhen was one of the artists invited to exhibit in the first China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The artist, who had not lost any of his critical edge on contemporary society, produced his most famous work to date entitled 88481.86, which refers to the height of Mount Everest from which he subtracted his own height.
Whereas the solo show of Xu Zhen by MadeIn Company at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA) will be held in Beijing as of January 2014, the exhibition at the Nathalie Obadia Brussels will showcase, as of November, works of various forms and inspirations, which reflect the diversity of bursting energies that compose the collective.
It features a series of large ‘paintings,’ woven in part, in a baroque aesthetic that creates a conscious contrast with the real subversive point of view on the history of humanity. These compositions maliciously mix the iconographic repertoires of China and the West from images collected on the Internet. The works thus combine sensual materials (fabric, feathers, sequins, leather, pearls, etc.) with a patchwork of images composed of traditional Chinese prints, medieval illuminations, 19th century French caricatures, and even an exotic and fantastical bestiary. The entire series borrows the epic verve of the large tapestries from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Symbols of power and wealth in olden days, such hangings provided efficacious propaganda decors. While preserving this political aim in its works, MadeIn Company transforms the meaning completely to scoff at the dominant ideologies of the contemporary great powers.
In response to the paintings, imposing hieratic sculptures erected like totems in the centre of the gallery, prolong, in their way, the effort to demystify imperial, military and colonial propaganda. Four large fetishes, taller than 2 meters, that reclaim the canon of African tribal statuary, are decked with the symbols of the oppressor: a kepi, a soldier’s helmet, a colonial hat and an officer’s cap – all of which have one thing in common: they are too small for the heads that they cover. A simple but efficacious manner to denounce the illegitimacy of tyrannical powers over religious and cultural minorities – as does the altar dedicated to the Buddha painted yellow. Here, MadeIn Company points the finger at the Chinese imperialism that is victimising Tibet.
These imposing, hulking sculptures are actually made of polyurethane foam – a light malleable material, similar to the accessories of stage sets, which MadeIn Company uses to underscore the following paradox: The massive appearance of these sculptures contrasts with the fragility of the material — an ever so symbolic metaphor of the social and political systems in place.
On stage at the Nathalie Obadia Gallery – Brussels, Xu Zhen and his ‘troupe’ perform the Human Comedy for us.
The exhibition at the Nathalie Obadia Gallery – Brussels will be held in parallel with the Lyon Biennale, where MadeIn Company will be showing an important installation entitled, Movement Field, at La Sucrière.
Galerie Nathalie Obadia:
With spaces in Paris and Brussels, Galerie Nathalie Obadia is a contemporary art gallery of international stature.
Defying the unprecedented crisis hitting the art market at the time, Nathalie Obadia opened her first gallery in Rue de Normandie, Paris, in 1993. In this 40 square-metre space she showed work by the new generation of French artists, including Carole Benzaken (Prix Marcel Duchamp, 2004) and Pascal Pinaud, who have since been joined by numerous artists from further afield, notably Jessica Stockholder (America), Albert Oehlen (Germany), Fiona Rae (UK), and Manuel Ocampo (Philippines).
Having moved into the space formerly occupied by Yvon Lambert in Rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare in 1995, by the end of the 1990s Nathalie Obadia had established her position, resolutely backing her artistic choices and intuitions on the world art market whether by exhibiting new artists like Frank Nitsche and Lorna Simpson, who had their first French exhibitions with her, or supporting confirmed figures like Shirley Jaffe.
In 2003 the gallery moved to its current address at 3 Rue du Cloître Saint-Merri, a space of 500 square metres well suited to showcasing the work of new artists like Michael DeLucia, Jorge Queiroz, Chloe Piene, Patrick Faigenbaum and Rina Banerjee. In addition to this prospective work, the gallery, now a reference on the contemporary art circuit, revisited the historic contribution of abstract minimalist Martin Barré (d. 1993). In 2010 two major figures joined the gallery: filmmaker Agnès Varda and artist Sarkis, thus gaining a new international visibility.
By opening a space in Brussels in 2008, Nathalie Obadia became one of the first French gallerists to create a contemporary axis between the two cities. Appointed an Officier des Arts et des Lettres in 2009, Nathalie Obadia is continuing the development of her gallery with the opening of his new space in Rue du Bourg Tibourg in February 2013, twenty years after the creation of her original space in 1993. This addition provides artists and collectors with a new range of possibilities for exhibition and cements her position at the forefront of the contemporary art scene.