Xu Bing, A.D. White Professor-at-Large

Background Story

Mixed Media

Background Story

Xu Bing has created a new work based on a centuries-old Chinese painting, Woodcutter in the Winter Mountains by Yang Xun, in the Johnson Museum’s collection for his series Background Story. Through the manipulation of recycled plastic and miscellaneous trash from daily life, the artist dilutes or intensifies light to “draw” an ink-like image on glass that conveys traditional Chinese reverence for nature while serving as a warning about humans’ ongoing mistreatment of the environment.

Xu Bing (China)

Currently serving as a Cornell A.D. White Professor-at-Large (2015-2022), Xu Bing works across artistic disciplines and cultural interventions to touch the fields of public and ecological art, printmaking, new media installations, drawing and sculpture. Maintaining studios in both the US (since 1990) and Beijing, where he served as Vice President of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing, China, and now is CAFA Professor with responsibility for graduate students. Xu Bing received his BA in 1981 from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) where he stayed on as instructor, earning his MFA in 1987. He then devoted four years to creating more than four thousand “fake” Chinese characters (radicals of the Chinese characters were recomposed to construct non-existent fake Chinese characters). The resulting work, “An Analyzed Reflection of the World-The Book from the Sky,” was presented in 1988 in the first major group exhibition of contemporary art in China, “China/Avant Garde,” in Beijing.

Xu Bing then moved to the United States in 1990, after which he quickly established himself as a major figure in the international art world. Secretary of State, John Kerry, awarded Xu Bing the U.S. Department of State Department Medal of Arts (January 2015) for his contributions to the Art in Embassies Program. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (1999), Fukuoka Asian Arts and Culture Prize (2003), the first Wales International Visual Arts Prize, Artes Mundi (2004), and a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Graphics Council (2006).

He has presented solo exhibitions at venues worldwide including the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Smithsonian Museum), Washington, D.C.; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Joan Miro Foundation, Barcelona, Spain; the National Gallery of Prague; the Spencer Museum of Art; University of Kansas at Lawrence; the Taiwan Museum of Fine Art; and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. He has also exhibited at the 45th and 51st Venice Biennales, the Biennale of Sydney and the Johannesburg Biennale, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Mass MOCA in West Adams, Massachusetts. The locations of other onsite installations include the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City; the John Madejski Garden at the Victoria and Albert Museum; Chatsworth House, home of the Duke of Devonshire, United Kingdom; and Museum of History, Taiwan.

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