The great ironist of Chinese contemporary art calls everything into question, including his identity, country, and the art industry at large. Xu’s 2005 mockumentary 8848-1.86—which is about seizing the top 1.86 meters of Mount Everest and carting it back to Shanghai—satirizes world governments’ Realpolitik ethos.
In 2009, Xu founded the “art creation company” MadeIn, subsuming his artistic identity as the CEO and producing artworks (“products”) that celebrated their commodification. His sumptuously textural “Under Heaven” paintings (2014–18), for instance, are sold by the square meter, and he has exhibited several editions of his works side by side, obliterating the conventional pretense that each work is unique.
Xu also has a gleeful antipathy for gallery-goers’ photography, painting glaring camera flashes directly onto perfect replicas of famous artworks in his “Light Source”series (2013), and spearing cameras through the lens in his “Focus”installations (2016). Recent mashups of different cultures are occasionally brilliant, such as the European Thousand-Arms Classical Sculpture (2014), where multi-limbed Buddhist figures are suggested by lineups of classical Western sculptures.