New temporary display of works by Xu Bing

From 2 March

Gallery 10 | Admission Free

Xu Bing (b.1955, Chongqing, Sichuan) is a leading contemporary artist from China renowned for works of art that explore language. To mark his visit to Oxford in March for the 2018 Oxford China Forum and the launch of Professor Peter D. McDonald’s Artefacts of Writing: Ideas of the State and Communities of Letters from Matthew Arnold to Xu Bing (Oxford: OUP, 2017), the Ashmolean is displaying three important works by Xu Bing.

Xu Bing, Beijing, January 2013 © Xu Bing Studio

Most famous is his Tianshu ‘Book from the Sky’ (1987-92), which presents 4,000 unintelligible ‘Chinese’ characters created by the artist in four bound volumes, each printed in traditional format using fine materials.

View of temporary display in gallery 10, Book from the Sky, and its box, Sullivan Bequest © the artist, EA2015.340

A more recent book, in some sense a companion to it, is Dishu or ‘Book from the Ground’, which uses the pictograms and emojis present everywhere in modern life to narrate a story that everyone can understand. Disrupting reading habits in different ways, the two works raise questions, at once sceptical and creative, about all established forms of writing.

Book from the Ground: from point to point, Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2013 © 2013 Xu Bing

Book cover, Artefacts of Writing, Ideas of the State of and Communities of Letters from Matthew Arnold to Xu Bing by Peter D. McDonald

Xu Bing’s Landscript (2002), in which he has created an ink landscape painting composed of pictographic Chinese characters, using the character for ‘tree’ 木, the stones using the character for ‘stone’ 石, and so forth, completes the display.

Landscript, 2002, ink on Nepalese paper, 50 x 173 cm, Sullivan Bequest © the artist, EA2015.341

More information on his 2013 exhibition Xu Bing: Landscape Landscript at the Ashmolean Museum can be found here. The exhibition catalogue is available at the Ashmolean shop.

Posted on behalf of Shelagh Vainker, Curator of Chinese Art.

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