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Phoenix Rises at Mass MoCA


Photo by Hideo Sakata

Two monumental flying phoenixes, created entirely of construction debris by prize-winning Chinese artist Xu Bing, are wintering at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, before migrating back to Beijing. Suspended from the ceiling of the museum’s cavernous Building 5, Feng and Huang (he and she, respectively) are each nearly 100 feet long and weigh 12 tons. Visitors are free to wander underneath the mesmerizing mythical birds symbolically born from the ashes of their ancestors—or, in this case, the castoffs of urbanization.

The models are embedded with thousands of tiny lights, which look like constellations at night, and the packing crates used to ship them from China form a compelling grand entrance to the show. (A wonderful film in the next room shows how the creatures were welded together.)

Part of a larger showing of Bing’s work—a reception on April 27 coordinates with the installation of a second phase of the exhibit—Phoenix joins another piece by the artist: his so-called Tobacco Project. The huge faux tiger-skin rug is made of more than half a million cigarettes arranged (filter up or filter down) to create a pattern. The installation includes cigarette cartons and can be interpreted as another conceptual statement about consumption—and the phenomenon of ashes to ashes. 87 Marshall St., North Adams, MA; 413-662-2111; massmoca.org.

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