(B. 1955)
Book from the Sky
signed in Chinese; signed 'Xu Bing' in Pinyin; numbered '43/100' (on the first page of one of the books)
four hand-woodblock printed books in original wood case
each book: 30 x 46 cm. (11 7/8 x 18 in.) (4); &
wood case: 50 x 33 x 10 cm. (19 5/8 x 13 x 4 in.)
edition 43/100
Executed in 1991
From the Collection of Kathy and Lawrence Schiller from Southern California, USA
A portion of the sale proceeds will be donated to Animals Asia on behalf of Mr. & Mrs. Schiller
Jean-Marc Decrop & Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Modernites Chinoises, SKIRA, Paris, France, 2003 (different edition illustrated, plate 46, p. 64).
China Audio & Video Publishing House, China International Gallery Exposition 2004 (CIGE), Beijing, China (different edition illustrated, p. 257).
Hatje Cantz Verlag, Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany, 2005 (different edition illustrated, p. 285)
Lingnan Art Publishing House, Create History: Commemoration Exhibition of Chinese Modern Art in 1980s, Guangdong, China, 2006 (different sized version and edition illustrated, unpaged).
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Mahjong: Art, Film, and Change in China, exh. cat., California, USA, 2008 (different edition illustrated, p. 25).
Ullens Center of Contemporary & Shanghai People Publishing House, 85' New Wave: the First Chinese Contemporary Art Movement, exh. cat., Beijing, China, 2008 (different sized version and edition illustrated, p. 155).
Richard Vine, New China New Art, Prestel Verlag, Munich, London & New York, 2008 (different sized version and edition illustrated, p. 63).
Prestel Verlag, China's ReVision, Munich, London & New York, 2008 (different sized version and edition illustrated, p. 110).
Queensland Art Gallery, the China Project, Queensland, Australia, 2009 (different edition illustrated, p. 40).
Bern, Switzerland, Kunstmuseum Bern, Mahjong - Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection, 13 June-16 October 2005 (different edition exhibited).
Hamburg, Germany, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Mahjong - Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection, Fall 2006. (different edition exhibited).
Shenzhen, China, OCT-Contemporary Art Terminal of He Xiangning Art Museum, Create History: Commemoration Exhibition of Chinese Modern Art in 1980s, 3-30 November 2006 (different sized version and edition exhibited).
Beijing, China, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, 85' New Wave: the First Chinese Contemporary Art Movement, 5 November 2007-17 February 2008 (different sized version and edition exhibited).
California, USA, University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection, 10 September 2008-4 January 2009. (different edition exhibited).
Koblenz, Germany, the Ludwig Museum im Deutschherrenhaus, China's ReVision, 9 November 2008-25 January 2009. (different sized version and edition exhibited).
Queensland, Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, The China Project, 28 March-28 June 2009. (different edition exhibited).
California, USA, Pacific Art Museum, Calligraffiti: Writing in Contemporary Chinese and Latino Art, 17 September 2009-17 January 2010.



In his language series, Xu Bing looks into the themes of pictograph and symbol by creating, apropos to the formation and structure of Chinese characters, a novel set of letters that should lead the way to further, and deeper, cogitation on the nature and mode of Chinese culture and thinking. The course of Xu's artistic creation has been very consistent, with each stage harping on about ruminations of a different kind. An Introduction to Square Word Calligraphy (Lot 1621) belongs to an early series the artist conceived of in 1994. The 26 English syllables are transformed into neoteric radicals and component parts akin to Chinese characters, and the various English vocabularies combine to form the Chinese square word calligraphy. This invented calligraphy, all together familiar and meaningless, brings to both Chinese and Western viewers a freshened reading experience; it sets forth for the Westerners a way to savor Chinese calligraphy by highlighting its visual glamour and spatial structure. This work shocked the Western art circle in the way that it earned for the artist the MacArthur Award, a Nobel equivalent in art, thus shaping Xu's artistic orientation.

The project that brought Book from the Sky (Lot 1598) to life began early in 1987 and took shape in circa 1997. Being Xu's seminal piece, it was first exhibited in the National Art Museum of China; widespread discussions, as well as more than 60 featured essays, were thereafter triggered in the Western art world. Originally titled An Analyzed Reflection of the World: the Final Volume of the Century, this work is an ultimate attempt to reassess language and especially the symbolic and pictorial quality of the Chinese characters. Based on the rules of forming Chinese characters, the artist invents at liberty square words that bear no semantic context but only the appearance of Chinese letters. The present simpler title, Book from the Sky, was taken as an analogue to the work itself - in Chinese, Book from the Sky (tianshu) refers to those esoteric books that are generally beyond comprehension. In the volume, some 4000 invented signs are hand-carved by the artist onto wooden blocks, and the printing and binding of it follow strictly the Chinese traditional practice. The fabricated characters contain common Chinese radicals - shui (water), tu (earth), cao (grass), shan (mountain), dao (knife), etc. - and yet the new arrangement renders the characters indecipherable. The radicals seem to be vaguely descriptive, but any absolute meaning is devoid of in the alienated characters. To sever context from words is a violent subversion of, and challenge to, tradition. In the words of Xu Bing, "it is a space because, for all its contradictories and absurdities, there is absolutely no clear directionality. Some say it is a deconstructive and anti-cultural work, as I deconstruct completely the language and disrespect culture by ways of making fun of it. And they say, too, the installation shows a deep respect for books, a fact that indicates the prominent place culture holds in my work, but in itself it is still a tease." The more we ponder over the meaning of Xu's characters, the more absurd the work seems, and the more powerful the work is in its artistic impact. There the profound visual effect and the sophisticated philosophy bring forth a multitude of questions and discussions. The time-transgressive art, with its infinite possibilities, is adroitly maneuvered by Xu Bing to create for the Chinese culture and language a wholly innovative visual and intellectual trait.

Another work of the artist, the Silkworm Chairman Mao Red Book (Lot 1622), belongs to the silkworm series Xu Bing pursued since 1994. Silkworm eggs are coated over the sheets of paper, so that when the eggs hatch the moths spin silks that enshroud all the texts on the book. Barely readable, the work delivers a sense of age, of lost time and dismay. Xu's generation grew with Chairman Mao's red book; the little red book was to the artist a great influence. It is his intention to look afresh at this period of his life and the development of his thoughts. The Chinese old saying, "spin a cocoon around oneself", which means putting a halter round one's neck, seems to manifest itself in the work. The weaving and webbing of silks keep the work alive, sustain its growth, and reflect the elapse of time as well as the brief existence of human society and culture.