Acclaimed Chinese artist speaks at ASU Art Museum

TEMPE, Ariz. - Printmaker and multimedia artist Xu Bing presents “Between Vision and Language: Xu Bing on Xu Bing,” April 17, 7:30 p.m., in the Katzin Concert Hall, ASU Tempe Campus.  The free lecture is part of the ASU Art Museum Forkosh Hirshman Lecture on Art and Society, a series sponsored by Valley residents Linda Hirshman and David Forkosh to foster dialogue about cultural and social issues. 

Xu Bing is among the first and most renowned of a generation of Chinese artists who entered the international art world in the 1990s.  He was in the group that showed at the Venice Biennale in 1993 and opened Chinese contemporary art to the West.  He has received several awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, citing his “…originality, creativity, self-direction, and capacity to contribute importantly to society, particularly in printmaking and calligraphy.”

Xu Bing’s work involves the investigation of text as image through his creation of a fictive language that deconstructs conventional written Chinese. An example of this kind of work, the interactive “Computer Font Project,” was shown at the ASU Art Museum in 2005 as part of the exhibition Regeneration: Contemporary Art from China and the U.S. 

Growing up, Xu Bing learned to write in his native language, memorizing huge numbers of complex ideograms.  That system changed with the Communist effort to make the language more easily mastered, but required those who knew it to learn it again in simplified form.  During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the only thing that people were permitted to read was the writing on Mao Zedong:  The Little Red Book

After the death of Mao, the artist says, “…people were starved for culture and read everything available.”  He encountered the languages of the West, in which phonetic pronunciation made reading more convenient.  From 1987-1991, Xu Bing created the monumental work Book from the Sky, an installation of hundreds of printed volumes, ceiling and wall scrolls that use language but that have no coherent meaning.  

“Xu Bing’s amalgamation of the beauty of the Chinese character contorted to be readable as English phonetic script is neither Chinese nor English, neither pure language nor pure image,” says ASU Art Museum Director and Chief Curator Marilyn Zeitlin. “In his skepticism about language, he touches on the larger issue of the futility of communication.”

Born in Chongqing, China in 1955, Xu Bing grew up in Beijing. In 1975, during the Cultural Revolution, he was relocated to the countryside for two years and regarded the experience as a positive one.  In 1977 he enrolled in the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing where he studied printmaking. He received an M.F.A. from the Central Academy in 1987. In 1990, he moved to the United States.  He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

This lecture is made possible through the generosity of the FMH Foundation of Illinois with additional support from Friends of the ASU Art Museum.

The ASU Art Museum, named “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona” by Art in America magazine, is part of the Herberger College of Fine Arts at Arizona State University. The museum is located on the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and 10th Street in Tempe and admission is free.  Hours are 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. on Tuesdays (during the academic year), and 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.  To learn more about the museum, call 480-965-2787 or visit

Media Contact:
Laura Toussaint