Xu Bing (b. 1955) is widely recognized as one of the leading conceptual artists of language and semiotics working today. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, he is celebrated for his “capacity to contribute importantly to society, particularly in printmaking and calligraphy.”
Born in Chongqing, China in 1955, Xu grew up in Beijing where he studied printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Trained as a printmaker, Xu’s work is informed by the Cultural Revolution, Chan Buddhism, and his keen interest in the relationship between meaning and words, writing, and reading. He has famously re-invented Chinese characters and the English alphabet, rendering Chinese nonsensical and English into legible Chinese characters, effectively challenging comprehension of both.
One of his best-known works, the Book from the Sky (1987–1991), earned Xu international recognition in the late 1980s and the 1990s. The work is a massive installation of scores of volumes, and scrolls printed with over 1200 imagined Chinese characters, all of them cut by hand into wood printing blocks. Describing his art practice, Xu explains that his works “are all linked by a common thread, which is to construct some kind of obstacle to people’s habitual ways of thinking—what I call the ‘cognitive structures’ of the mind.”
Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the British Museum in London, among other major institutions. In addition, Xu Bing has shown at the 45th and 51st Venice Biennales; the Biennale of Sydney and the Johannesburg Biennale amongst other international exhibitions.