Optimistic Birds

The critic Cate McQuaid is an optimist, with a forward moving message. In her review “Xu Bing: Phoenix’ rises at Mass MoCA” she shines praise on the exhibition of Xu Bing’s Phoenix, First Class, and Background Story 7 in the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. McQuaid skillfully includes a basic description of the art work, the artist’s history, history referenced by the art, and Phoenix’s potential future exhibition space.

McQuaid separates her critique into three basic sections: the Phoenix section, the First Class section, and the Background Story 7 section. By breaking up these sections and including photos, she keeps the reader focused, and engages them visually. While, reading her description of each piece the photo reaffirms her opinions. As she describes the two birds included in Phoenix, she is able convey the grandeur of the piece, while at the same time describing the compiled rubbish that it is made from. She writes “Plastic green accordion tubing wriggles down their luxuriantly long tails, and… strips of old bamboo, steel rebar, and girders. The creatures are at once ugly and magnificent”. The use of descriptive words like luxuriantly and magnificent, help to create this grand tone.

In the second section she uses similarly lavish words to describe the grandeur of First Class. While the piece appears to be a tiger skin rug, Xu Bing has actually compiled tons of cigarettes. She describes it as an “alluring object of beauty”. Adding to this description she uses tactile, optical words like “bristles on the floor, and throws light; as you walk around it”. These words add to the grandeur of First Class.

McQuaid continues this theme of magnificence when explaining the ideas that Xu Bing’s pieces express. She writes “Xu works on a large scale not just in terms of size, but in conceptual terms.” Here she describes major historical events reflected in Xu’s works: the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square  as well as international systems of exchange like language and global trade. Including these major events add prestige to Xu’s work by placing his work into major world events.

McQuaid ends her review describing the future display of Phoenix in a New York cathedral. This detail becomes significant as she contrasts Xu’s industrial material work with the Gothic style cathedral. This contrast creates a final image to leave the reader with, and gives life to the phoenix beyond the MoCA exhibition.

– Chloe Brown


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