The Ashmolean’s 2013 exhibition programme opened with the Museum’s first major exhibition of contemporary art.
Born in Chongqing, southwest China, in 1955, Xu Bing has become one of China’s best- known and critically acclaimed artists, exhibiting in solo exhibitions around the world. He grew up in an academic family in Beijing and during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was sent to the countryside for re-education. Afterwards he studied printmaking, becoming successful as both an artist and a teacher. He left China for the United States in 1990, and in 1999 received the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award. His subsequent awards include the Fukuoka Asian Culture prize (2003) and the first Artes Mundi prize (2004). In 2008 he returned to Beijing to become Vice President of China’s foremost art institution, The Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Xu Bing works in a range of media - print, sculpture, installation and performance. His international success has grown in response to his ability to embed complex ideas about art and culture within accessible, playful works which engage the audience. ‘Landscape Landscript’ is the first exhibition devoted to his landscapes.
Central to all Xu Bing’s art is the theme of language: its uses and changes; misunderstandings; and dialogues within and between cultures. As a Chinese artist, Xu Bing has focused particularly on the pictorial quality of the Chinese language which, he maintains, lies at the core of Chinese culture.
The Landscript series uses Chinese characters for landscape features to compose a landscape painting. In this way, characters for ‘stone’ make up an image of rocks; the character for ‘tree’ makes up trees; and ‘grass’ for grass and so on. Xu Bing has produced four new pieces for this exhibition which develop further his technique of using characters as brushwork.
His Landscripts were displayed alongside his early landscape sketches and prints, with more recent works which depart from traditional landscape styles. He also selected a number of European landscapes from the Ashmolean’s collections in order to explore how different traditions interact and to throw light on the fundamental elements of Chinese culture.
The exhibition was open at the Ashmolean Museum 28 February – 19 May 2013.