On a visit to the cathedral of St. John the Divine, you’ll see the exhibit Phoenix by Xu-Bing hanging in the nave of the epic cathedral, one of the largest in the world. The two birds that make up the Phoenix by artist Xu-Bing are each 90 to 100 feet long and weigh 12 tons. They’re made of waste from the many construction sites across Beijing, symbols of a rapidly changing urban landscape. In order to support the structures, metal wires are looped up through the “weep holes” (which drain water) and through the Guastavino tiled vaults.
According to the St. John the Divine website, Xu-Bing has stated that:
“The method is unsophisticated, like Chinese lanterns. At the same time it is also in keeping with the Western concept of ready-made assemblage. The entire process of creation forms an interactive relationship with the environment and Chinese society.”
St. John the Divine contends that Phoenix is “at once fierce and strangely beautiful, Xu Bing’s mythic birds bear witness to the complex interconnection between labor, history, commercial development, and the rapid accumulation of wealth in today’s China.”
Phoenix was on display last year at Mass MOCA, but the presence of the installation at St. John the Divine is particularly fitting given the cathedral’s dialectic between religion and modernity, reflected in the subject matter of the stained glass windows and radiating chapels.
Join us for our Untapped Cities Vertical Tour of the St. John the Divine on Saturday September 27th at 2pm, where you will get to climb to the top of the cathedral and take in the magnificent views of Manhattan.