Attention Shoppers: Sotheby’s Will Auction an Entire Supermarket Next Month, Made by Conceptual Artist Xu Zhen

It's fully stocked—with empty products.

Xu Zhen, Xuzhen Supermarket. Photo courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ Gallery.

Next month, Sotheby’s Hong Kong will attempt to sell the first concept for a work of art at auction, offering Xuzhen Supermarket at its contemporary art evening sale on September 30. The piece, by Chinese artist Xu Zhen, appears at first glance to be a fully stocked grocery store, but all of the goods for sale are empty.

The installation, which features a working cash register, is continually restocked, satirizing both the emptiness of mass consumption and the arbitrary nature of the international art market.

“We want to show the world a different, fresh, and stimulating side of Chinese contemporary art,” said Yuki Terase, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, Asia, in a statement. “This category is still new to auction—even on a global scale—and is, therefore, a testament to Sotheby’s creative spirit and our capacity to push new frontiers to expand the variety of art in the region.”

Xu Zhen, Xuzhen Supermarket. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's Hong Kong.

Xu Zhen, Xuzhen Supermarket. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

Offering Conceptual Art at auction seems to be part of a growing trend of auction gimmicks—Christie’s put Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in their contemporary art sale, and Sotheby’s tried the same thing with an Aston Martin automobile. The buyer of Xuzhen Supermarket “will obtain the right to commission new physical recreations and enactments of the concept, to be executed by Xu Zhen,” according to the auction house.

The concept, inspired by the rise of Western-style convenience stores in China since the 1980s, at the expense of traditional food markets, debuted as Shanghart Supermarket at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2007 and was shown at London’s Sadie Coles HQ in “Zhongguo 2185” last fall. This is the first time an edition of the work has been made available for sale.

Xu Zhen, Xuzhen Supermarket. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's Hong Kong.

Xu Zhen, Xuzhen Supermarket. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

In a statement, Xu described the upcoming sale as a “ground-breaking collaboration” with the auction house that “escalates the work to a new level of breaking boundaries and disrupting preconceptions about art and daily life.”

The work carries a pre-sale estimate of $115,000 to $192,000, and a portion of sales will benefit the Chinese art nonprofit Organhaus Art Space, which supports young and experimental multimedia artists. During the auction preview, the public will be able to shop at the Xuzhen Supermarket in Shanghai (September 1 and 2), Beijing (September 4 and 5), and Hong Kong (September 28–30).


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