Chinese artist Xu Zhen created the monumental untitled sculpture depicted above (sorry I am such a bad photographer) for "NONO", a show without explanations or preconceptions, I visited this summer at 789 Art District in Beijing. It consists of what seems to be a bisected brontosaurus displayed behind smudgy glass in a water-filled case. Clearly a send-up of British artist Damien Hirst's "Natural History" series. Visitors can walk between the two sections of the 30-foot-long dinosaur and view its realistic resin innards.
Xu Zhen is known as the maverick of the Chinese art world. With no patience for conventional, out-moded ways, his urgent desire to confront every value of a society he perceives as banal, hypocritical, or plain conventional, extends to his own approach and practice as an artist. Combining a critical intelligence with fierce humour, his works in many media are often unsettling, with an undertone of violence that delight as they provoke.
Xu's work has been dubbed a tribute, a commentary or an obvious jibe (Conceptual Art as Dinosaur?), but no explanation accounts for its striking presence. Like Hirst's work, Xu's must be experienced to be appreciated -- and despite the obviously long-deceased subject matter, the brontosaurus feels very much alive, a damp, green, menacing presence.
Because of its size, the installation was set outside of the main gallery in the courtyard, and in the oppressive summer humidity (Beijing is farther north and usually cooler than Shanghai, but this summer, it has been just as bad), the damp green glass and looming monster have a dark, jungle feeling very much at odds with more aseptic conversations about authenticity and redundancy.