Xu Bing
Mount Kenya National Park, Kenya


Xu Bing

Xu Bing was born in 1955 in Chongqing, China; he lives and works in New York and Beijing.

Xu Bing’s artistic practice is an exploration of language. In works ranging from monumental installations to handcrafted books, he plays with the written word, usually in the form of the Chinese character. For Book from the Sky (1987–90), included in the groundbreaking touring exhibition New Chinese Art Inside Out, Xu Bing created more than 200 hand-printed, hand-bound volumes of a single book. The seemingly classical text of the book, exalted in this grand and poetic installation, had been written from an alphabet of some 2,000 Chinese characters that were, in fact, of the artist’s invention. In his work, the artist uses tradition to subvert culture, recasting the cultural meaning and the authority of language. A leader of the cultural avant-garde in Beijing, following his relocation to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, Xu Bing’s education includes an M.A. from Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Art, where he studied traditional bookbinding and calligraphy. In 1990, he moved to New York, where he bases his studio while working on major exhibitions and community-based collaborative works around the world. A 1999 MacArthur Fellow, Xu Bing has exhibited work at major international exhibitions in Venice, Johannesburg, and Sydney, as well as at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum Ludwig, Köln; The Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid; Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki; New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Hiroshima City Museum, Japan; and Han Mo Art Center, Beijing, among other museums. In 2001, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution organized a major solo exhibition, Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing. In 2004, Xu Bing was the first winner of the Artes Mundi Prize, an international monetary award honoring one successful artist each year who explores the human condition in his work. In 2008, he was appointed Vice President of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, with responsibilities to guide the school’s international relations and artistic direction.

“An idea must take root, grow, and then bloom for it to result in change.”

—Xu Bing, on the Human/Nature project

Related Links

Xu Bing Interview

Produced by Lidia Rossner and Alexander Rossner, http://dmovies.net/.