Museum MACAN Presents Xu Bing: Thought and Method – the first major retrospective of the artist in Southeast Asia

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Xu Bing – Book from the Sky, installation view of "Xu Bing: Thought and Method", UCCA, Beijing, 2018. © Xu Bing Studio 

Jakarta, Indonesia – 30 May 2019 Museum MACAN, Indonesia's leading institution dedicated to modern and contemporary art, presents Xu Bing: Thought and Method, one of the most extensive retrospective exhibitions by renowned Chinese artist Xu Bing, this fall. On view from 31 August 2019– 12 January 2020, the exhibition features a vast display of recognized and significant works by the artist, inviting audiences to delve into his artistic practice and procedure.

Having been first showcased at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing last October, this exhibition marks Xu Bing’s most comprehensive retrospective ever seen in Southeast Asia, and doubles as his first major solo presentation in Indonesia. With an artistic career spanning over 40 years to date, Thought and Method features more than 60 works including drawings, prints, installations, and films, as well as documentary footage and archival material.

Xu’s vision is multiple and myriad: from the early explorations of culture, language, and traditionalknowledge systems, to the investigations into cross-cultural contact and globalization in the 1990s, to the recent meditations on technology and modernity in the 21st century. His search for novel methods of articulating new problems, his experimentation with a great number of media, both traditional and new, his conceptual rigor, and his unmistakable creative syntax have all served to make his name a metonym for Chinese contemporary art itself, and an important artistic voice reflecting our current global age.

The exhibition title symbolizes a systematic overview of Xu’s body of work, his methodology, and the motivation behind his artistic inquiry. This survey presents major turning points in the artist’sdevelopment, including meditations on signification, text, and language, as reflected in works such as Book from the Sky (1987-1991), Ghosts Pounding the Wall (1990-1991), and Background Story (2004-present); explorations of hybridity, difference, and translingual practice, as seen in works like A Case Study of Transference (1993 – 1994) and Square Word Calligraphy (1994-present); also recent investigations into the economic and geopolitical changes seen in Tobacco Project(2000-present), Book from the Ground (2003-present), and Dragonfly Eyes (2017), his first feature- length film.

Aaron Seeto, Director of Museum MACAN says: “Xu Bing is a truly global artist – his practice probes the depths of history to think through processes of cultural transference in an age of transnational communication. This exhibition includes some of Xu Bing’s most important works that have defined, from a cultural perspective, our understanding of the role technology, language and global culture play in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We are pleased to introduce Xu Bing for the first time to audiences here in Indonesia, and believe this exhibition will resonate widely.”

Xu Bing says about the show: "a good artist must be a good thinker. However, if you only have good thinking or philosophies, you could become a great philosopher, but art history might never record you. Therefore, an artist has to employ an artistic way to present his or her ideas, beyond the normative cultural concepts. For example, I designed the Square Word Calligraphy. The characters resemble Chinese, yet their essence is thoroughly English and completely unrelated to Chinese. I am actually interested in prompting people with a new cognitive perspective and changing our fixed ways of thinking. Through this work, I find a new conceptual framework to restore the foundation of our cognitive knowledge.

In the 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution, Xu became one of China’s “sent-down youth,” moving to a commune on the outskirts of Beijing to learn from and assist local farmers. From traditional explorations in woodcut art and miniature prints, his practice turned towards conceptualism. These provided the foundation for his later career. In the early 1990s, Xu emigrated to New York, where he embarked on investigations into combining Western forms with traditional Chinese elements. Since 2000, his concerns shifted to globalization, surveillance, and industry. When hereturned to China, in 2007, the country’s rapid development inspired him to create a series ofrelated artworks, including the surveillance camera footage, Dragonfly Eyes, which questions the nature of performance and reality.

Xu Bing: Thought and Method will be on view at Museum MACAN from 31 August 2019 – 12 January 2020. The exhibition is a collaboration between UCCA Center for Contemporary Art and Museum MACAN.


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About Museum MACAN

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN) is an art museum in Jakarta, Indonesia. It provides public access to a significant and growing collection of modern and contemporary art from Indonesia and around the world. The Museum has an active program of exhibitions and events in a 7,100 square meter facility.