Category Archives: Xu Bing

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York

You’ve got to love a church that has a Poet in Residence, (currently Marilyn Nelson)  and lists Judy Collins as one of their artists/musicians in residence.  Never mind that it is a beautiful space, with a lovely communion service, and an socially active community……now there is also a stunning art installation by Xu Bing on display for all to enjoy.

At least this time I was (somewhat) prepared, having checked the Cathedral of St. John the Divine website for service times. (Yes!  The Art Caravan has been on the move.)

Unlike Anne Patterson’s installation for Grace Cathedral, (see previous posting), this artwork is not site specific, and wasn’t originally intended as a cathedral installation.  Xu Bing, a contemporary Chinese artist, had been commissioned to create artwork for the World Trade Centre under construction in Beijing in 2008.

He decided that the glass atrium between the building’s two towers would be the perfect setting for two phoenixes, the male Feng and the female Huang.  The phoenix is an important symbol of unity and peace in Chinese mythology.

Xu Bing chose to construct the birds from the detritus of the construction site.  How apt for a phoenix?

Construction was delayed, in large part due to the demands of the Beijing Olympic Games, and then the financial challenges of the times.  The builders became more cautious, and censorious.  They demanded that he cover the structures–all 12 tons–in crystals, as they appeared ‘unfinished.’  When Xu Bing refused, all money and support for the project was withdrawn.

Fortunately, the art collector Barry Lam, acquired the work.  It was shown briefly in China, and at MASS MoCA last year.   The work is beautiful, and graceful. The vast nave of the cathedral is a perfect setting for these ‘birds.’

Phoenix by Xu Bing

Phoenix by Xu Bing

 

Phoenix by Xu Bing

Phoenix by Xu Bing

Phoenix by Xu Bing

Phoenix by Xu Bing

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