Bronze Phoenix (Feng and Huang) have landed on this Mezzanine Gallery of the Crow Museum
of Asian Art. These mythical beasts, created by the internationally renowned artist Xu Bing
(b. 1955 Chonqing, China) represent an important story in Chinese Folklore and a story we need
to hear right now.
“In Chinese folklore,” Xu Bing explained, “there was once a big mountain with a fire burning. One large
bird tried with all his might to put the fire out; however, the fire took over and burned all his feathers.
Eventually, every bird from the forest came out to give one feather from their own bodies. The phoenix
was born, becoming the most beautiful bird in the forest.”
The phoenix, as leader of the universe in the cosmos of birds, is kind. They are gentle and compassionate:
representing unity, power and rebirth. As composite animals, they are known to have the face of a face of
a swallow, the head of a pheasant, the beak of a rooster, the legs of a crane, the back of a tortoise, and the
unfurling tail of a peacock.
Each element and resplendent color is charged with symbolism. With no blueprint to follow, Xu Bing was
given the freedom to do as he liked–to create a phoenix for his time. In 2016, Xu Bing drew inspiration
from his monumental phoenix sculpture in creating Bronze Phoenix (Feng and Huang) featured in this
catalogue. This intricate sculpture was created through the traditional lost wax process. Consisting of 500
separately cast and hand-wrought parts, it is built from the tools of the worker: wrenches and shovels
cover the wings, drill bits form extended beaks, and hard hats create a majestic crown. Industrial tubing
decorates the bodies and ribbons that demarcate Chinese construction sites billow in a fanfare of trailing
feathers. “Each piece of Bronze Phoenix is hand-painted,” Xu Bing says, “It is like a relic that was just
discovered from an archaeological site: the coloration has worn, but after wiping away the dust, the colors
shine again, bringing out the inner beauty of the sculpture. My special treatment of color was inspired from
Degas’ sculptures; its subtlety combines perfectly with the color of the bronze itself.”
In addition to the 2016 Bronze Phoenix this exhibition presents five examples of works from our Chinese
jade collection celebrating the powerful phoenix. Within the contrast of time, materials and message, the
strength of the beloved phoenix rising is present in each work, whether made in 1800 two hundred years
later. Like the phoenix, through pandemic, climate change and all the challenges we face as humans, we
are reminded of our power of resiliency and our capacity to show up to a brighter future.