Chinese Artist Xu Bing’s Phoenix takes flight at New York Favorite 



Mar 1 2014

Xu Bing, the internationally acclaimed Chinese artist, has brought his “Phoenix” installation to the majestic nave of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The two phoenixes, both Feng, the male, and Huang, the female, faced the decoratively carved bronze doors of the Cathedral, as if poised to take flight in the middle of the night. They were crafted from debris and workers’ tools from construction sites in Beijing. The feathers were fashioned from layered shovels; crowns made of weathered hard hats; heads created from jackhammers; and birds’ bodies sculpted from other salvaged construction debris, including pliers, saws, screwdrivers, plastic accordion tubing and drills.

The appearance of these two phoenixes in New York is not their first public outing. They were on view twice in Asia, in front of the Today Art Museum in Beijing and at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 and earlier in the U.S. in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA).

In Chinese culture, phoenixes often represent good luck, power, and prosperity. But Xu’s phoenixes are designed to reflect the poor working conditions for the migrant laborers in China. “They bear countless scars,” Mr. Xu explained, having “lived through great hardship, but still have self-respect. In general, the phoenix expresses unrealized hopes and dreams.” As the Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, the dean of St. John the Divine, said, “This beautiful, even sacred installation has transformational powers. This is not just a critique about laborers in China; it is about a subject that affects us all. It’s about fair pay and human wages for all people.”

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