In the studio with artist XU ZHEN®
Chinese contemporary artist XU ZHEN® brings us into his studio and we discover how space influences his inspiration and creative process.
In 2000, I joined a not-for-profit art centre with other artists in Shanghai called BizArt. We worked as a team to create exhibitions and events. At the time, the whole art scene was quite underground in terms of ideology. But as the economy and the art market grew over that decade, we began to realise the importance of the commercial aspect of artmaking. So, in 2009 we created MadeIn Company.
As the company developed, we realised that having different departments — from creation to production and promotion of works — was very compatible with my way of working in the art scene at that moment. Most things are a business nowadays, so creating a company solves the conflict between art and business; the company brings together these aspects in a magical way.
Our MadeIn Company headquarters are in a warehouse of about 3,000 square metres in the suburbs of Shanghai. The company includes MadeIn Gallery, XU ZHEN® and XU ZHEN Store, art-ba-ba website and
MadeIn Art Education. The MadeIn Gallery is in Shanghai City, and represents more than 20 artists.
There are about 40 employees at MadeIn Company and we work from 10am to 6pm every day. Because the company is art-oriented, yet operates as a corporation, it is extremely chaotic and very busy.
The best way to describe the difference between my current way of working and that of individual artists is the difference between a medium-sized company and a small private business.
My main job is art creation. Our philosophy is that if we want to make what we do more interesting, we must let ideas and the way of thinking in art collide with reality. So for me, artistic creation includes creating artworks, exhibition curating and planning, and the social practice of art (such as collaboration with brands, development of art villages, art media, limited edition creation, art education).
We have a large team, including: Vigy Jin who is mainly responsible for company management, project management and gallery operations; and Ivy Zhou, who is responsible for gallery operations, marketing, and developing the relationships with artists and collectors. The company operates in different departments, including media, production, finance, design and various types of studios.
For many of our projects and productions, we work with external companies as much as possible. This can improve our creative efficiency and reduce our operating costs, as well as cultivate a variety of talents.
In 2013, I registered XU ZHEN® as a brand of MadeIn Company and all the artworks created since then have been under that name. Creating a brand has brought new restrictions around the quantity of work produced, as well as my way of thinking. However, the restrictions and relationships between art and business has opened up a lot of interesting questions. Usually when people think of artists they have a romantic notion, but when it’s a brand, perhaps it leads to an interesting misunderstanding, as this identity in society is quite different. The pace of life in China can make people quite anxious, particularly about the relationship between art and business. By combining them, I find new possibilities.
XU ZHEN®: ETERNITY VS EVOLUTION runs until 14 March 2021. It is presented with the support of Dr Judith Neilson AM and the White Rabbit Collection, Sydney.
This interview is an excerpt from an interview between XU ZHEN® and Peter Johnson, National Gallery of Australia Curator, Projects and was first published in the Spring 2020 edition of Artonview. Artonview is the National Gallery’s Member’s magazine. Become a member today.