Art Seen: International

XUZHEN SUPERMARKET // SADIE COLES HQ

by Dr. Kostas Prapoglou

Xu Zhen’s XUZHEN Supermarket (2007/2017) features a what it seems at first glance as a conventional and one of the many in the area Chinese supermarket stores situated at the ground floor space of Sadie Coles HQ in London’s West End. Although visitors are invited to purchase authentic packaged merchandise from China sagaciously stacked in the shelves, they are soon to find out that all items are entirely empty. This is the first time XUZHEN Supermarket is presented in the United Kingdom coinciding with Zhongguo 2185, a group show of ten Chinese artists occupying the main gallery space above.

Previously shown in different parts of the world such as Art Basel Miami (June 2007), ShanghART Singapore (April 2014) and Shanghai (April 2016), Xu Zhen has clearly demonstrated with his Supermarket a profound interest in notions around consumerism and capitalism that have a deep impact on and challenge the quotidian of several diverse societies. Embarking from the economical and societal framework of each one of these places, the artist investigates how people react, interact, and counteract with such an artificial environment that has aggressively become part of their ordinary reality.

Xu Zhen, XUZHEN Supermarket, 2007/2017, installation view, Sadie Coles HQ, The Shop, London. Copyright Xu Zhen, courtesy Xu Zhen and MadeIn Company, Shanghai, and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki

Xu Zhen, XUZHEN Supermarket, 2007/2017, installation view, Sadie Coles HQ, The Shop, London. Copyright Xu Zhen, courtesy Xu Zhen and MadeIn Company, Shanghai, and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki

The idea behind Supermarket surveys the invasive character of self-service shops (first introduced in China in the early 1980s) offering vast quantities of products that has led to the precipitate transformation of the traditional open market and street selling to an all-under-one-roof situation. The appearance of packaged commodities, which in the super market realm entails vast quantities of the same product in price variations fluctuating according to different brands and ingredients, generates a chaotic landscape where buyers are trapped within a labyrinthine aisle network of endless, needless, and superfluous stock.

The artist also inspects a dimension of social rendering as this forms and develops inside the micro-habitat of the supermarket. From being the places of constant interaction and communication on a personal level between family members and street merchants, local markets are now replaced by faceless and impersonal megastores where speech and personal contact are substituted by labels, branding, packaging and advertising. The economic growth and the expansion of chain stores in countless geographic locations reflects the assimilation of Western culture and the emergence of the middle-class system with the advancing prerequisite for consumption. At the same time, the subsequent increase of waste takes an ecological perspective on a global scale. The mass production of goods has accelerated not just an upsurge in factory numbers but also the surfacing of vast landfill sites with devastating effects on nature.

The vacant hypostasis of all available products in Xu Zhen’s installation conveys a sad realization about the voidance and eradication of history and socio-cultural identity. The sudden change in people’s habits following a standardized way of thinking and behaving in line with Westernized prototypes is heavily pronounced in the artist’s visual vocabulary.

Xu Zhen, XUZHEN Supermarket, 2007/2017, installation view, Sadie Coles HQ, The Shop, London. Copyright Xu Zhen, courtesy Xu Zhen and MadeIn Company, Shanghai, and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki

Xu Zhen, XUZHEN Supermarket, 2007/2017, installation view, Sadie Coles HQ, The Shop, London. Copyright Xu Zhen, courtesy Xu Zhen and MadeIn Company, Shanghai, and Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography: Robert Glowacki

Permeated through the aesthetics as well as characteristics of Pop Art, especially encompassing ideas of mass production, mass culture as well as advertising, XUZHEN Supermarket embraces a commentary on the ephemeral values and the frailty of society. Playfully inviting viewers to become customers of his supermarket, the artist not only simulates an episode of our everyday life but also creates a performative element that blurs the boundaries between what seems to be real and what is not.

The empty vessels for sale also emerge as a caustic commentary on the international contemporary art market and the way it has been evolving in recent years, simultaneously echoing the obscure criteria of valuing, trading and acquiring art.

XUZHEN Supermarket is a multi-dimensional project with manifold layers of interpretation emphasizing on aspects of human life as these develop through the influx of overpowering information from innumerable sources. Juxtaposing the instinctual need to survive against the immense desire of consumption through the overabundance and excess of available produce, Xu Zhen brings to the forefront the everlasting human idiosyncrasy to continuously progress and expand by any means necessary.



XUZHEN Supermarket at Sadie Coles HQ, London, UK ran through November 4, 2017.

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