Critics’ Picks

XU Jin, Everything Has a Soul, 2016, oil on canvas, 54 x 80".

XU Jin, Everything Has a Soul, 2016, oil on canvas, 54 x 80".


XU Jin

Don Gallery 东画廊
Hall D, 2555 Longteng Avenue, West Bund, Shanghai, China
January 12–March 3, 2019

“Everything Has a Soul” is not a theme but a spell that XU Jin has recited over the thirteen paintings in this exhibition. The silhouette of a man with a crow on his shoulder is visible in the foreground of The Last of Sunset, 2017, surrounded by skulls and carrion, and a dripping white sky on the verge of implosion. It’s a landscape, yes, but where? Or when?

XU is no newcomer—his career as an artist began in the mid-1970s as the Cultural Revolution was coming to an end. The playful figural elements of his earlier paintings are now gone, and his work is relentlessly earnest, with no trace of irony; even when he starts to draw an artist’s palette hovering like a spaceship in the sky in Artist Point in Yellowstone Park, 2018, he abandons it and returns us to a daunting landscape covered with snow and trees. He shares with the viewer a commitment to dwell with a scene—not just with one or two elements or characters, but with its core foundation.

XU paints as if everything has a soul that the world seeks to extinguish, and his works portray environments in which its characters seem to vacillate between the anticipation of action and its aftermath. The title piece of the exhibition, Everything Has a Soul, 2016, is a night scene awash in the phosphorescent glow of snow, semen, and fairies. A man stands witness, clutching a briefcase, expectant. Of all the paintings, this is Xu’s most ominous, its glowing organisms unleashing their frenzied thingness into our world.