The Secret of the Phoenix

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Xu Bing, “Xu Bing: Phoenix”, 2008.
Demolition and Construction waste, 100′ long (each), 20 tons (combined),
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
© Xu Bing

On February 9th 2013, Boston Globe correspondent Cate McQuaid published a review on a set of installation pieces in the Boston Globe’s art section. Her article—titled “Review: ‘Xu Bing: Phoenix” rises at Mass MoCA”—covers a pair of installation pieces of immense proportions that are hosted at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, seeing how they both were created to resemble phoenixes that are each nearly 100 feet long and collectively weigh more than 20 tons. While phoenixes are normally symbols of power and prosperity in China, particularly for the imperial families, these phoenixes hold none of the elegance associated with these birds. Instead, they’re beasts created of rough industrial tools such as jackhammers, shovels, steel rebar, and girders, all pieces of demolition and construction waste that was left over from the creation of the glass atrium that bridges Beijing’s World Financial Center towers. From McQuaid’s point of view, the phoenixes “embody the schism Xu saw at the construction site: The thrust toward progress, wealth, and majesty has a seamy, rusted out underbelly, evident in the treatment of laborers.”

Overall, McQuaid has very positive views on Xu Bing and his installation pieces as well as the messages they convey. She even goes through the trouble of explaining how the process of finding the phoenixes within Mass MoCA acted as a subtle nod towards their history and journey. She explains to the reader that “you have to walk through a corridor of shipping crates to get to them, a reminder not only of the trip they took to get here, but of the constant flow of global trade.” However, in trying to tie in the overarching theme of Bing’s works—that behind each industrial creation is a harsh reality that is often overlooked by the superficial appearance of the creation—McQuaid wasn’t able to transition her thoughts very well, and a few grammatical issues, especially in relation to the placement of commas, were apparent as several passages had to be carefully analyzed in order for their meaning to be properly interpreted. Aside from those few issues, the review did well in conveying McQuaid’s thoughts and opinions on Xu Bing and his colossal installation pieces.

—  Amy LaPointe

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