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View of “Gu Dexin,” 2016–17.

Gu Dexin

Diplomatic Residence Compound

View of “Gu Dexin,” 2016–17.

The exhibition “Gu Dexin 1994-02-04” at Beijing’s Diplomatic Residence Compound excavated and assembled a more than twenty-year-old artwork by Gu Dexin, a radical, self-taught artist and founding member of Beijing’s New Measurement Group in 1988. An installation made of metal pipes, models of human body parts, and light fixtures, the work actually had never before been realized. When assembled, the apparatus condenses steam: Droplets of liquid drip from the pipes into a model of an open mouth placed on the floor. After thoroughly searching Gu’s archive for more information about this piece, the curators could find only a single sketch, published in the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper on February 4, 1994.

In China in the mid-’90s, it was general knowledge that if a work of contemporary art was not displayed in a public exhibition, in a sense it never existed; a piece that was not

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