Xu Bing’s Monumental “Phoenix” at Saint John the Divine


On March 1, Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing’s most ambitious project to date will be unveiled to the public at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan.  Phoenix, 2008-10, composed of two birds — each weighing 12 tons and measuring over 90 feet long—will be suspended in the Nave. The two birds, a male called Feng and a female called Huang are made from detritus the artist took from construction sites across the rapidly changing urban landscape of Beijing.

Describing how the birds were assembled, Xu Bing said “The method is unsophisticated, like Chinese lanterns. At the same time it is also in keeping with the Western concept of ready-made assemblage. The entire process of creation forms an interactive relationship with the environment and Chinese society.”

The birds “bear witness to the complex interaction between labor, history, commercial development, and the rapid accumulation of wealth in today’s China, according to a statement on the cathedral website. “The Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral” marks the second time the works are being shown in the U.S. They were previously on view at MassMoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts and were exhibited in China at the Today Art Museum in Beijing.


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