About the Photographer
Chinese, b. 1977 Shanghai
Xu Zhen is an influential Chinese artist, curator, and critic. Active in all these roles since his graduation from the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Institute in 1996, Xu Zhen is constantly pushing the envelope of what it means to be an artist in the 21st century, in China, and beyond. Labeled a prankster, maverick and instigator, he utilizes various mediums to critique the art world, its politics, economics, and institutions alike.
Xu Zhen’s work takes the form of bold humor and controversy and challenges the role of art in society. In 1998, he performed his controversial piece Throwing a Cat, in which he hurled a dead cat against the walls of his apartment for 45 minutes, documenting the process and results. This work got Xu Zhen noticed in the art world, and became the first in many shocking works that critique both the nature of contemporary art and the industry that commodifies art internationally and in China.
The work in the MoCP’s collection comes from two of Xu Zhen’s photographic projects made between 2003 and 2004. The work Super Absorbent is from a series of the same name from 2003. The series documents the underworld of Shanghai’s nightlife with blurred, almost faded images of Karaoke bars and nightlife in general. Each of the pictures is constructed of texts from virtual conversations taken from the Internet, and they are sometimes incredibly explicit in their erotic or pornographic nature. Like many of the Zhen’s early works, Super Absorbent, grapples with issues of commodification and the boundaries of what is considered art today
In 2009, Xu Zhen created a contemporary art creation company called the MadeIn Company. All of his subsequent work has been created under the MadeIn Company, within which along he works with a group of other artists, technicians and coordinators. The company’s name is a nod to China’s robust manufacturing and exporting practice, and maintains Xu Zhen’s critique of the conception, production, exhibition, and sale of art. Of the company Xu Zhen has said; “Great works are something you discover, not something you create. I feel I would be limited in what I could discover if I were working on my own.”
Xu Zhen graduated from the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Institute in 1996. His work has been shown extensively in China and internationally. Selected solo shows include: James Cohan Gallery, New York (2007, 2008, 2009); ShangART H-Space, Shanghai, China (2009); Kuntsthalle, Bern, Germany (2011); White Cube, London, U.K. (2012); Ullen Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China (2014). Selected group shows include: 49th and 51st Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (2001, 2005); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan (2004); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2004); Musee Art Contemporain Lyon, Lyon, France (2004); PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City (2006); Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, U.K. (2007); National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, South Korea (2012). Xu Zhen is also the winner of the 2004 Best Young Artist Award by CCAA (Chinese Contemporary Art Awards).