Xu Zhen and MadeIn

1. Watch the video above: curator Philip Tinari talks about Xu Zhen's practice in the context of contemporary China.

3. Now watch this excellent video from Tate Modern  where Xu Zhen talks about his own work

4. Let's consider this work -'European Thousand-Armed Classical Sculpture' as typical of Xu Zhen's postmodern, parodic blend of East and West, past and present.
Xu Zhen produced by MadeIn Company, European Thousand Armed Classical Sculpture, 2014, glass-fibre-reinforced concrete, marble grains, marble, metal, 473 x 1470 x 304 cm, installation view, Long Museum Shanghai, image courtesy the artist and White Rabbit Collection

Xu Zhen (produced By MadeIn Company)

 ‘Andy Warhol and the Factory established a connection between art and commerce. They wanted to make art into commerce. We have already established the idea that art is commerce, what we are doing is making commerce into art.’ (Xu Zhen)
For me, in order to increase the understanding between different cultures, I need to keep creating. Through the creation of new behaviour, art can create a new culture and, therefore, help us understand underlying cultural forms.’ (Xu Zhen)
I’ve become so interested in this idea of artworks as product lines.’ (Xu Zhen)
Xu Zhen’s work has ‘a critical, self-aware edge that speaks to the turbulent conditions that govern the contemporary art system in Mainland China… Xu’s work ‘maps the complex relationship between the creation, curation, and consumption of contemporary art.’
(Blouin Art Info)

 About the Artist
·       XU ZHEN 徐震 (MADEIN) Born in Shanghai 1977
·        Lives and works in Shanghai
·       1996 graduated from Shanghai School of Arts and Crafts
·       Taught by famous artist and abstract painter Ding Yi
·       2001 - participated in the Venice Biennale at the age of 24
·       2005 - Represented China at the Venice Biennale
·       His work ‘Eternity’ is on Cockatoo Island in the 2016 Biennale of Sydney
·       In June 2009 Xu Zhen established ‘MadeIn Company’ – a multi-disciplinary art production company, devoted to art creation, product ion, promotion, support and curation
·       2013 launch of a new brand ‘Xu Zhen produced by MadeIn Company’
·       MadeIn Company is not an artists’ collective – Xu Zhen sees himself as the CEO
·       MadeIn is “devoted to the research of contemporary culture’s infinite possibilities.”
·       MadeIn is like an art factory where the concepts of Xu Zhen and his collaborators are translated into physical existence by other researchers, artists, technicians and assistants
·       ‘MadeIn Company’ transliterated into Chinese is ‘meiding gongsi’, (literally, company without a roof, or without a head) suggesting unlimited boundaries, or “the sky’s the limit”
·       Xu Zhen identifies Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Mathew Barney as artists he admires

 European Thousand Armed Classical Sculpture, 2014
·        19 western classical sculptures are presented in a reference to the Buddhist ‘Thousand Armed Guanyin’
·        The whiteness of the figures references newness, a fresh start and the statues of classical antiquity
·        Figures are cast using Jesmonite, a brand of glass fibre reinforced concrete - a polymer-mineral (water-based acrylic liquid mixed a mineral base), which can be considered as a type of concrete. It is reinforced with fibre-glass, which makes it more resistant to weathering and shocks.
·        The figures are hollow with an internal stainless steel structure reinforced with the composite and fibre-glass.
·        The sculptures are coated by waterproof paint
·        The figures are taken from an eclectic mix of sources - can you identify them?

These specific sculptures were chosen because they are well-known, iconic figures from the Western canon, and the position of their arms fits the requirement that when they are aligned (and some are reversed) all the arms form a round shape like the Bodhisattva the ‘Thousand Armed Guanyin’ - when seen from the front their arms look as if they belong to the first statue (Athena). This makes her look like the Thousand Armed Guanyin
·       The work was planned and fabricated in Shanghai at MadeIn studios
·       Research and Design phase approx. 8 months
·       Material experimentation and fabrication process to final stages approx. 18 months
·       30 people involved in the project, including a team of photographers, designers, and artisans, and a research team who travelled to Europe to select the sculptures and research suitable materials
·       The work is intended to reference the connectedness of all cultures, and the false dichotomy between East and West, according to MadeIn Studio
·       The number 19 is not significant – it was the number of figures needed to achieve the desired effect
·       There are intended references to early 19th and 20th century cinema and photographic experiments relating to sequential movement, which is also reflected in ancient Eastern art, as seen in sculptures of the ‘Thousand Armed Guanyin’
·       Xu Zhen is interested in ideas about the reproduction and replication of images and objects, art as spectacle, globalisation, and the hybridisation of culture
Other contemporary artists who have referenced the Thousand-Armed Guanyin and multi-armed deities include Huang Yong Ping and Lu Yang

   Above, Huang Yong Ping, ‘Guanyin of a Thousand Hands’, Below, Lu Yang, ‘The Anatomy of Rage, or Wrathful King Kong Core’ (the wrathful Tibetan Buddhist deity Vajrakilaya)

About Guanyin
Revered in Taoism as an immortal, Guanyin is an East Asian deity of mercy and a bodhisattva associated with compassion, venerated by Mahayana Buddhists. The name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means "Perceiving the Sounds (or Cries) of the World". Some Buddhists believe that when one of their adherents departs from this world, they are placed by Guanyin in the heart of a lotus, and then sent to the western pure land of Sukhavati. The gender of the deity varies, as does the name: usually depicted as male in India, the portrayal of Guanyin in China tends to be feminine or androgynous. Because she hears the cries of all in need and sees their sorrow she is sometimes represented with a thousand arms and eyes. [not always literally 1000!]

Before answering the questions, read this article from the Canberra Times about the current exhibition of Xu Zhen's works at the National Gallery of Australia:


Focus Questions
European Thousand Armed Classical Sculpture
·      In their original contexts, who are these figures, and what might they represent?
·      Why do you think a Chinese artist would choose to replicate western sculptures?
·      How would the effect of the work be different if the statues looked old and worn? And what if they were brightly coloured? Would it change the meaning?
·      Xu Zhen is interested in globalisation and consumer culture – can you make a connection between those ideas and this particular installation?
·       Xu Zhen’s ShanghART Supermarket has been shown internationally, and in China. Here is a critic’s comment:
·       The installation also makes use of models such as Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans (1962) and Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy (1992). Xu Zhen’s provocative approach hits audiences as soon as they walk into the museum, placing a consumerist icon – the supermarket – in a usually non-commercial space. The artist encourages visitors to buy and engage in a global consumerist frenzy, a travesty that also involves art, therefore digging into notions of what makes art valuable, what drives the art market and what motivates us to buy and desire possessions.”

Finally - try to synthesise your knowledge by responding to this extended response question. 

Use TWO selected works by Xu Zhen and TWO works by other artists you have studied in your response:

How do contemporary artists comment on the commodification of art and culture?



  1. I can't see all of the figures. Is there a list of all of them?

    1. Check the White Rabbit Collection website and the website of the National Gallery of Australia where this work is currently showing.