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Exhibition on the production and culture of tobacco as seen through the eyes of Xu Bing
Xu Bing, Light as Smoke, 2011. Tobacco leaf courtesy of Marvin Cogshill. Fabrication assisted by Michael Muelhaupt. Courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Photo: Travis Fullerton.
RIDGEFIELD, CT.- Xu Bing: Tobacco Project explores the production and culture of tobacco as seen through the eyes of one of China’s most ground-breaking contemporary artists. Organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the exhibition’s only venue in the New York Metropolitan area is at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, on view from January 29 to June 10, 2012.

In 1995 Xu Bing was invited to visit Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Exploring the area, he visited the Duke Homestead and Tobacco Museum, tobacco farms, and a former cigarette factory, experiences that planted the seeds for a body of work that now spans more than a decade.

A prolific artist, Xu Bing’s interest in language has manifested itself in work that is strongly conceptual in nature, and this exhibition’s use of research, archival materials, and text points to the artist’s idea-driven methodology. The Tobacco Project employs tobacco as both a material and a subject with which to explore a wide range of issues, from global trade to the complex sociology of tobacco use. Xu Bing has written, “Everyone knows that tobacco is harmful, but we are inseparable, caught in an entanglement that resembles the relationship between lovers: getting too close is no good, but neither is being too distant….”

The dramatic centerpiece of the project is the work 1st Class, a carpet-like sculpture resembling a tigerskin rug that has been made from nearly half a million cigarettes. His new works include Traveling Down the River, a sculpture which includes a thirty-four-foot-long cigarette which is ignited on a reproduction of a famous Chinese scroll painting by Xhang Zeduan, commenting on the way tobacco culture spread into China. John B. Ravenal, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, said, “Xu Bing brings his usual wit and insight to his work with tobacco, as well as his sense of craft and showmanship. The exhibition is a stunning and thought-provoking display of Xu Bing’s innovative art.”

Richard Klein, exhibitions director at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, adds, “We are very pleased to bring this important exhibition—one of Xu Bing’s most ambitious undertakings—to Ridgefield, especially as Connecticut shares Virginia’s history of tobacco production, with the Connecticut River valley being the only region in the United States that produces premium cigar wrapper tobacco.”

Born in 1955, Xu Bing was raised during the Cultural Revolution in China; he moved to the United States in 1990, shortly after the Tiananmen uprising. He was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999, followed by a number of additional awards, including the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2003 and the Southern Graphics Council Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. In 2008, Xu Bing was appointed vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, one of the most important positions in the Chinese art system.

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