Xu Bing

(b. 1955)

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(1955– )

Chinese artist, born in Chongqing. He moved with his parents to Beijing in 1957. Being surrounded by books as a child was an important influence. The experience of the Cultural Revolution was a significant one. His father, the head of the history department at Beijing University, was humiliated and forced to wear a dunce's cap. Xu Bing was sent to the countryside, 1974–7, but he regarded this as in some ways a positive experience, because of his contact with the Chinese traditions still retained by the villagers. Subsequently he studied printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and through the early 1980s began to build up a reputation for his woodcuts. In 1988 he exhibited the first completed section of A Book from the Sky (Queensland Art Gallery). The final work, which took Xu Bing four years to complete, consists of bound books covering the floor, and sheets of paper posted on walls and suspended from the ceiling, inscribed with Chinese-style characters which are, in fact, meaningless, being entirely the invention of the artist. Recalling the daily newspapers which are publicly posted in China, the work has generally been seen as a political protest at the corruption of language. After the repression which followed the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, Xu Bing became the subject of official criticism for ‘bourgeois liberalism’ and he was compared to a ‘ghost pounding the walls’. This epithet became the title of a further piece made from a hand-rubbed impression taken from the Great Wall of China. He moved to the USA in 1990 and his work has continued to explore the theme of language. In 2008 he showed in London sheets of apparently authentic Chinese calligraphy which, on examination, turn out to be English words. In an interview to accompany the show (The Times, 10 May 2008) he said that in spite of his early experiences, China now ‘has the best soil for contemporary art’. In 2008 he was appointed Vice President of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.

Subjects: Art.

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