James Cohan Gallery, through Oct 10
This exhibition is a fiction. Ostensibly a group show of works from the Middle East, all of the art was, in fact, made in China. MadeIn Co. Ltd., listed as the curator, is a company founded by Shanghai artist Xu Zhen, the mastermind behind this installation. Apparently, after suffering endless fools who visit China to look only at art trading in such stereotypes as pandas and Mao jackets, the artist decided to fight back, applying the same heavy-handed approach to the latest fad in international art.
Zhen offers witty spoofs on cultural politics. In one sculpture, titled Things I see every morning when I wake up and think of every night before I sleep, he rolls ersatz urns, camel figurines and two inlaid chairs into a mammoth ball of razor-wire, the kind of easy allegory for turmoil that passes for art at many biennials. Similarly, the mobile Like Real uses prosthetic limbs to comment on the Iraq War. In Widespread, the artist turns political cartoons from the Western press into works of Pop Art, referencing everything from the Taliban to Fox News. A wall label bears the disclaimer that these cartoons "do not reflect the viewpoints of MadeIn."
The installation is so convincing that many visitors scoured the checklist for names of individual artists, though I overheard one saying that "Middle Eastern artists aren't this funny," revealing his prejudices and stepping into the show's trap without quite realizing it. One of the smartest artists in China today, Zhen is willing to take risks instead of just churning out works for the market.—Barbara Pollack
Time Out New York / Issue 731 : Oct 1–7, 2009