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Twelve-Ton 'Phoenix' Sculptures Take Flight at St. John the Divine

By Emily Frost | February 4, 2014 4:47pm
 The sculptures are part of an exhibit called "Phoenix" by the Chinese artist Xu Bing. 
"Phoenix' Sculptures Rise at St. John the Divine
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A pair of gargantuan creatures made of scrap metal, construction debris and LED lights are now soaring above the nave in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The two birds, the work of Chinese artist Xu Bing for an exhibit called "Phoenix," took the artist two years to create in his studio and weeks to assemble on site. They'll be on view at the Amsterdam Avenue cathedral from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a year starting March 1. 

Weighing more than 12 tons combines and measuring 90 and 100 feet each, the works are suspended from the cathedral's ceiling.

Their electric light mixes with the glow of the 122-year-old cathedral's stain glass windows to create an arresting experience, explained Isadora Wilkenfeld, who works on exhibitions at the cathedral. 

The few people who've caught a glimpse of Xu Bing's creatures since their installation last week "have been awed and very excited," said Wilkenfeld, who added that the grand scale of the cathedral matched the magnitude of the sculptures. 

Elaborate metal feathers stream in different directions on the sculptures' back sides, with the birds displaying expressive, almost dragon-like faces from the front. The works are on loan from Taiwanese collector Barry Lam, and this is their second stop in the U.S. after a year-long exhibition at MassMoCA in North Adams, Ma. 

"The concept came to [Xu Bing] on a trip to Beijing," Wilkenfeld said of the works. "He saw giant high rises under construction and contrasted that with the experience of [regular] workers."

The materials the artist used were all collected from construction sites across Beijing. The resulting sculptures bear the scars of a changing China, noted Xu Bing, who splits his time between New York and Beijing.

The exhibit's launch on March 1 will feature tight-rope walking by Philippe Petit, jazz performances, lectures and a chance to explore the sculptures, which are currently cordoned off as the final touches are made. 

A donation of $10 is suggested for visitors.