A Corinthian column, coiled like a snake, raised its head and watched visitors as they moved through the gallery space.
Metres away, a group of curators were huddled grouped around a series of white, life-sized European sculptures, arranged to resemble a multi-armed deity.
It was a nice change from uncrating paintings and hanging frames, as staff at the National Gallery of Australia worked on piecing together a major exhibition by contemporary Chinese artist Xu Zhen.
Described by gallery director Nick Mitzevich as "a leader among China's younger generation of artists", his works examine the role of art and culture in the distribution of global power.
The exhibition, which opens mid-March in collaboration with the White Rabbit Collection in Sydney, will showcase some of the large-scale works Xu Zhen is best known for, as well as videos, tapestries and paintings.
Coordinating curator Peter Johnson said Xu Zhen was interested in how globalisation intersected with ideas around the body, alienation, trade, control and the commodification of culture.
"He is a Shanghai-based artist, but I think what's really important about Xu Zhen is that he's first and foremost an international artist," he said.
"He's from China, and a lot of his work deals with that, but he's really interested in the larger global flows of capital and culture, what he can say about those, and in particular he's interested in his more recent works with how east and west and other parts of the globe sometimes clash, sometimes come together, sometimes create beautiful new forms."
He said Xu Zhen - who doesn't travel outside China and doesn't like to fly - was popular in his home country, where his works resonated in quite a different way, particularly those involving juxtapositions of eastern and western traditions.
"[For example] this European Thousand-Armed Classical Sculpture looks like a conga line or a dance party, but when you get directly in front it looks very much like the Bodhisattva of Compassion," he said.
"It's about how different cultural forms can be employed in different contexts and how they can be read in different ways."
Xu Zhen also founded the MadeIn Company, a factory-like cultural production corporation, in 2009, and later trademarked his own name as a brand, "skewering the romantic notion of artistic genius and exploring new possibilities for expression through the combination of art and business".
"He talks about balance and contradiction within his work, so he very much has an intention, a sense of what the work is about. But he's very much very interested in people bringing their own interpretations to the work, and hoping that there are several different pathways to interpretation as well."
Exhibition co-ordinator Rowena Paget said the show was among the largest, in terms of the scale of exhibits, the gallery had ever dealt with.
"We've had sufficient time for this one, it was a short lead time in organising it, but it's not the same as taking paintings out of the crate. I think this one sculpture is going to take about seven days to install. It's both delicate and heavy," she said.
- Xu Zhen: Eternity vs Evolution opens at the National Gallery of Australian on March 14 and runs until September 13. Entry is free.