On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Chinese artist Xu Bing has installed a soaring pair of phoenixes at St. John the Divine. The cathedral of St. John the Divine is a marvelous place to visit in itself, which I only realized when I visited of 90- and 100-foot mythical birds last week. This impressive temporary exhibition certainly makes a visit timely. The diffuse light of the stained glass and high nave form an awesome atmosphere in which the multi-colored phoenixes melt into the soft light.
Phoenix (2008-2010) was originally commissioned for an office building atrium in Beijing, but the project and rationale changed as the artist was inspired by the poor working conditions at the construction site to use discarded materials to create the birds. Rather than reflecting rebirth as is thought in the West or luck, power, and everlasting life in China, these phoenixes speak more directly to the social cost of rapid building in China. Looking more closely, one sees how Xu carefully formed the birds out of pipe, fans, wiring, and such to create sculptures of both aesthetic and social resonance.
More information available on the Cathedral’s website.