Xu Tan (born in Wuhan, Hubei Province, 1957) is an artist who currently lives and works in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, China. Xu attended the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, where he received his B.A. in 1983 and then his M.A. degree in Oil Painting in 1989. In 1993 Xu became a member of the Big Tail Elephant Group, participating in the group’s exhibitions from 1992 to 1996 in Guangzhou, and in 1998 in Bern.
The Big Tail Elephant Group is an artist collective founded in 1990 by Lin Yilin, Chen Shaoxiong, and Liang Juhui and later joined by Xu Tan. The group formed in Guangzhou, China, with an interest in urban development and the rapid transformation of modern cities, Guangzhou being among the earliest cities in China to undergo this shift.
While Xu’s formal background is in painting, he works in many mediums including video, performance, and installation. Xu’s work concerns cultural and social change and often incorporates text and image. For example, Xu’s recent project Keywords School, a mobile project collecting cultural “keywords," both in China and abroad and engaging in participatory models.
Xu Tan has been a recipient of the Fellowship of Asia Culture Council (Rockefeller Foundation), New York, in 2002 and the Fellowship of DAAD, Berlin, Germany, in 2004.
Select group exhibitions include Another Long March: Chinese Conceptual Art (1997), Breda, The Netherlands; Big Tail Elephant (1998) at Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Inside Out: New Chinese Art (1998) at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, USA; Taipei Biennial (1998), Taipei, Taiwan; Second Berlin Biennial (2001), Berlin, Germany; 50th and 53rd Venice Biennale (2003, 2009), Venice, Italy; and The Second Guangzhou Triennial (2005), Guangzhou, China.
Select solo exhibitions include Keywords School (2008) at Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden; Searching for Keywords, Location One, New York; Air is Good (2005) at DAAD Gallery, Berlin, Germany; Keywords School at YBCA (2009) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California; and Xu Tan: Questions, Soil and ‘Socio-Botanic’ (2013) at the Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou, China.