Xu Bing’s Masterpieces at the Frost Museum
Anthony Japour offers a perspective on Chinese Contemporary Art
Xu Bing: Writing Between Heaven and Earth
Frost Musuem, Florida International University
February 21, 2015- May 24, 2015
Some years ago during Art Basel Miami Beach, I hosted a Symposium on the Chinese Contemporary Art Movement at the Center for Visual Communication sponsored, in part, by Art & Antiques Magazine. In attendance were art collectors, art dealers, curators, and as well as experts and specialists from Christies, Sotheby’s and Bonhams auction houses. It was a lively series of talks and I provocatively posed a question to the experts: Which Chinese Contemporary artist’s works would still be talked about in the 22nd Century?
Xu Bing, Book from the Sky, 1987-1991
Mixed media installation, hand-printed book and scrolls printed from blocks inscribed with "false" characters. Dimensions variable.
Courtesy of Xu Bing Studio
Xu Bing was born in Chongqing and grew up in Beijing where he attended the most important art school in China, Central Academy of Fine Arts and where he later in life became its Vice-President. Xu Bing’s work is most well known for his printmaking skills and the most important work to date is Book from the Sky now on view at the Frost Museum. From a conceptual point of view, Xu Bing’s artistic works are about language drawing from his own cultural heritage and evolved and developed through living in the United States in the 1990’s.
While Xu Bing’s work is distinctly apolitical and Book from the Sky was created in 1987 prior to the Tianamen Square Protests in 1989, the work was reinterpreted and criticized by some quarters within Chinese society after the protests as being anti-government. The work itself is inspired by traditional Chinese characters and while its 1200+ characters look real, it’s complete gibberish— without any meaning at all.
Xu Bing’s conceptual use of language continued to evolve with his innovative Square Word Calligraphy where the artist reinterprets important Western and Chinese poets’ works into artwork in what appears to be Chinese calligraphy but what is, in fact, English written to look like Chinese characters. Included in this body of work is even a poem written by Mao Zedong which according to the artist reflects the conflicting legacy of Mao Zedong.
Xu Bing, Square Word Calligraphy Classroom, 1994-1996
Mixed media installation, desk, chair sets, copy and tracing books, brushes, in video
Dimensions variable. Courtesy of Xu Bing Studio.
At a lunch I hosted for the artist the next day at the Perez Museum, Xu Bing asked me why I had developed such a keen interest in Chinese Contemporary Art. I said because “when I first became acquainted with the Chinese Contemporary Art Movement, I realized immediately that I was looking at the Picasso’s and Miro’s of my time.”
Xu Bing, Suzhou Landscripts, 2007-2013 Lithography print. Each 91 x 38 inches unframed. Courtesy of Hugh J. Freund