A monumental installation, Eternity-Buddha in Nirvana especially commissioned for the NGV Triennial from Chinese multimedia artist Xu Zhen (b.1977-) is supported by the Loti and Victor Smorgon Fund and brings together east and west cultural traditions, promoting both ‘cross-cultural understanding and appreciation’
‘As visitors arrive in Federation Court they will encounter the sheer scale and beauty of this world-premiere installation by renowned Chinese contemporary artist Xu Zhen,’ said Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV.
The sculpture comprises over 20 sections that have been meticulously pieced together by staff from Xu Zhen’s studio. Fifteen white sculptures have been then lifted by crane and positioned on top of the reclining Buddha.
Knocking everyone’s socks off placed in the forecourt of the Gallery, the giant sculptural work combines replicas of a famous reclining Buddha statue dating 705 – 781 during the Tang Dynasty 618 – 907, when Buddhism first became established in China.
According to a Chinese adage “Knowledge comes from seeing much” a particularly relevant comment for students of art who are asked to view art way beyond what the eye can simply see.
Offset by 3D scanned and cast Greco-Roman, Renaissance and Neoclassical sculptures based on stories of the Gods and Heroes of Greek Mythology from before the Christ Event changed our dating system to the Common Era, it’s sure to create quite a stir and stimulate conversation.
Tradition has it an Emperor of the Han dynasty had a dream about AD65 in which he saw a divine being gold in colour, flying about in front of the palace. One of his ministers explained about a famous sage in India who had learned how to fly and had a golden body and was called the Buddah and so the emperor sent out messengers to find out more.
During the Tang dynasty, the prestige of China grew throughout Asia as she became involved with affairs beyond her frontiers. Missions of commercial, rather than diplomatic concerns reached China from India and according to one report, from Byzantium.
Iran sent embassies between 713 and 750 which included dancers, musicians and horsemen and the Tang has become one of the dynasties we in the west recognise first through its ceramic figurines, which have been found as far afield as Egypt. Tang poetry was also introduced by Po Chu-I who became legendary in Chinese history, with his style later influencing many modern Western writers.
During antiquity five centuries before the Christ Event, the Greek pantheon of Gods were complete and the great myths about them had acquired a definitive form. Religious life revolved primarily around the cults of the ‘Olympian Gods Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, the twins Artemis and Apollo, Hestia, Hermes, Ares and Hephaestus whose place of abode was Mount Olympus in Northern Greece.
The Greek world of ancient times was a compact self-governing territory with a single urban centre and from the word polis comes our term politics and its derivatives. No other ancient people were so dynamic and creative as the Ancient Greeks whose citizens while trying every form of action tempered it with the maxim of ‘nothing in excess’.
The Romans admired the ancient Greeks and immortalised their heroes in sculpture, many being rediscovered during the 15th – 19th century, some of which have been incorporated into Xu Zhen’s work, including those known as the Dying Gaul, the Farnese Hercules the Sartyr and Bacchante, Achilles, the Dancing Faun, Crouching Aphrodite and Milo of Croton to name a few.
The original Buddah was built into a man-made grotto known as the Nirvana Cave, near the cosmopolitan Chinese city of Dunhuang, situated at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road.
Xu Zhen’s works certainly address Eastern and Western assumptions about Chinese art and the global art market. Occurring every three years, the NGV Triennial is a free, gallery-wide exhibition of contemporary art, design and architecture that will features the work of more than 100 artists and designers from around the world.
The NGV Triennial on display at NGV International from 15 December 2017 to 15 April 2018 has Free Entry for all visitors.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017