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Landscapes made from Chinese characters to star in exhibition

Arts

Matt Pickles | 18 Jan 13

Xu Bing 1

The Ashmolean Museum will open its first major exhibition of contemporary art in February with a display by one of China’s best known artists.

Xu Bing: Landscape Landscripts will be displayed in the special galleries from 28 February.

Xu Bing’s background is an interesting one. He grew up in Beijing and was sent to the countryside for ‘re-education’ during the Cultural Revolution, after which he studied printmaking and became successful as an artist and teacher.

In 1990 he left China for the United States and went on to receive the MacArthur ‘Genius Award’ in 1999, the Fukuoka Asian Culture prize in 2003 and the Artes Mundi prize in 2004.

Xu Bing returned to Beijing in 2008 to become Vice President of China’s foremost art institution, the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and has exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution and the New Museum of Contemporary Art among other major galleries.

Landscape Landscript will be the first exhibition devoted to Xu Bing’s landscapes.

In his paintings, he uses Chinese characters to give the appearance of traditional Chinese landscapes – so the Chinese character for ‘stone’ makes up an image of rocks in the painting, the character for ‘tree’ represents trees, and so on. Xu Bing’s Landscripts will be displayed alongside his early landscape sketches and prints, as well as more recent works which depart from traditional landscape styles.

‘The Ashmolean is one of the world’s leading centres for the study of Chinese art – with collections dating from the Neolithic period right up to the present,’ says museum director Dr Christopher Brown, CBE.

‘We are therefore thrilled to present the work of one of China’s most exciting and innovative artists working today to a wide UK audience.'

‘Xu Bing is among the most significant visual artists at work in the world today,' says Professor Peter McDonald of the English Faculty and St Hugh's College, who will give a talk on ways of looking at the art of Xu Bing on 6 March.

'Deeply versed in the Chinese traditions of calligraphy, painting and printing—all of which are inseparably linked—his work speaks as powerfully to the so-called ‘West’ as it does of the so-called ‘East’.

'No matter what your cultural background might be, or what writing system you take to be your own, encountering a work by Xu Bing is guaranteed to be a vertiginous experience that takes you to the limits of how you have been taught to read and what you have learned to see,’ he adds.

Xu Bing: Landscape Landscript will be displayed in the Ashmolean Special Exhibition Galleries from 28 February until 19 May 2013.

Xu Bing will give a lecture in Oxford on 28 February, Professor McDonald will give his lecture on 5 March and artist Qu Leilei will give a workshop in Chinese brushwork in pictographic and standard scripts on 15 March. Ticket information can be found here.

Xu Bing repetitions

Top image: Lancscript by Xu Bing (Michael Sullivan Collection); Bottom image: Repetitions by Xu Bing (Xu Bing Studio)