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The Language of Xu Bing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Xu Bing, Silkworm Book, 1998. Book, encased in silkworm cocoon, Xu Bing Studio, photo courtesy Xu Bing Studio.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- One of the most active and influential Chinese artists living today, Xu Bing received his training in the Printmaking Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. His woodblock prints appeared in important journals in the late 1970s and early 1980s immediately after the Cultural Revolution. His breakthrough occurred in the mid1980s when his work Book from the Sky, an installation of books and scroll sprinted with more than four thousand fake Chinese characters, captivated the burgeoning art community in China. From then on, investigating the significance and meaning of language and writing has become Xu Bing’s trademark.

In 1990 a scholarship brought Xu Bing to the United States, where the initial language barrier made him even more sensitive to the function of words as powerful tools of communication and of potential misunderstanding. He invented Square Word Calligraphy to introduce the Western audience to Chinese writing and to transcend boundaries created by language. He returned to China in 2008 to train the next generation of artists as Vice President of CAFA, while continuing to explore the ramifications of language and writing.

This exhibition, Xu Bing’s first solo presentation in Los Angeles, spans his two-decade career.

Practicing Square Word Calligraphy Within the exhibition, an installation by artist Xu Bing simulates a classroom and traditional way that children in China learn to write by tracing Chinese characters with a brush and ink. Here, however the characters in the tracing books on the desks are actually made up of English letters. This unique writing system called Square Word Calligraphy was invented by Xu Bing to help English speakers understand the structure and the art of Chinese calligraphy. Each square box contains an English world with the letters designed to imitate the arrangement and flow of brushstrokes that are essential to the appreciation of Chinese calligraphy. Visitors are invited to take up a brush and practice writing calligraphy.

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