The Phoenix rises at Saint John the Divine

The Phoenix rises at Saint John the Divine

Story by Erik Cuello

image001Celebrated artist Xu Bing, famous for live installation art pieces such as Silkworm Series, The Net, and Monkeys Grasping the Moon, has brought his new exhibition, Phoenix, to the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights.

Created over the course of two years by Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing from debris and scrap collected from construction sites across a rapidly urbanizing Beijing, Phoenix is a mechanical masterpiece. The piece is composed of two birds, a male called Feng and a female named Huang, both measuring in at close to 100 feet long.

Delivered in pieces from January 20-24, the sculptures are currently being assembled inside the Cathedral and will be on display for public viewing on March 1st.

Pheonix will be exhibited in suspension in the Nave, with Feng and Huang seemingly in flight beneath the celestial ceiling and stained glass backdrop.

The Phoenix project was quite an undertaking for Bing, which took nearly three years to complete and required a lot manipulation of the pieces used to create it. The parallels between the development of the Phoenix and that they are made of parts of old Beijing are not lost on Bing.

“The method is unsophisticated, like Chinese lanterns,” explained Bing. “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.”

The exhibition marks only the second presentation of Phoenix in the United States. Bing’s installation has also been exhibited at MassMoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, and throughout China at such venues as the Today Art Museum in Beijing and Expo10 in Shanghai.

An architectural marvel in its own right since 1892, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine has gone beyond a place of worship as a venue for various artistic and cultural exhibitions, offering writing and civic engagement workshops and a number of collections on display.

For more information on this and other upcoming exhibits at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, please visit

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