Xu Bing Debuts his Exhibit ‘The Language of Xu Bing’ at LACMA

When one thinks of a person who works with words, they almost always envision a writer typing away at a laptop.  However, words can also be visual art, as Chinese artist Xu Bing will prove to Angelenos when he has his first exhibit in L.A. titled “The Language of Xu Bing,” opening at the LACMA Dec. 13. Bing, who is considered to be one of the most influential Chinese artists living today, studied printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.  After completing his M.F.A. in 1987, he released “Book from the Sky” an installation of books and scrolls printed with more than 4,000 fake Chinese characters.  The art community in China was captivated.

Bing remained the toast of the local art scene until 1989, when the Tiananmen Square protests caused the government to scrutinize his work, which reflected cultural issues in China, including reforms enacted by the Communist Party.  He left for the United States in 1991, where he continued to deconstruct language.  His thought-provoking work was a hit with Western audiences, and he remained in the States until 2008, when he left to accept a position as president of his alma mater in Beijing. In July 1999, Bing received a MacArthur Grant for “originality, creativity, self-direction and capacity to contribute importantly to society, particularly in printmaking and calligraphy.”

The LACMA exhibition will include the video “The Character of Characters,” Bing’s personal account of the significance of Chinese characters and language through history.  English speakers can learn about the language and the art of Chinese calligraphy by viewing “Square Word Calligraphy Classroom,” an installation composed of tracing books with Xu Bing’s invented calligraphy.  The fake characters in Bing’s calligraphy are nonsensical to Chinese people, but make sense to English speakers because they are one-block words made of Latin letters bent to the shape of Chinese characters.

Like Christine Corday, an American artist whose work is also being displayed at the LACMA this month, Bing has created work influenced by 9/11.  For his piece “Where does the Dust Itself Collect? he collected dust from the site of the Twin Towers and used it to recreate the gray film that covered NYC in the weeks following the attacks.

In the dust he stenciled the Buddhist quote, “As there is nothing from the first, where does the dust itself collect?”

“The Language of Xu Bing” will be on display at the LACMA Dec. 13, 2014-July 26, 2015.  For more information, go here.