Xu Bing's Solo Exhibition at United Art Museum in Wuhan
On December 1st, 2017, in Wuhan, the solo exhibition Xu Bing opened at the United Art Museum. This event, hosted by the United Art Museum and CEC Optics Valley, was supported by the Ullence Center for Contemporary Art. The exhibition, curated by Feng Boyi and Wang Xiaosong, showcased the works of artist Xu Bing, who over the past three decades has created a variety of artworks, both impressive in volume and diverse in style. Xu Bing's clear expression and incisive engagement with issues render his work distinctive in contemporary art, continually influencing the Chinese contemporary art landscape.
This exhibition, for the first time in mainland China, provided a comprehensive survey of Xu Bing’s art. However, it was not intended to be a simple retrospective. Through the displayed artworks, the exhibition revealed Xu Bing’s artistic method and the core motivation of his continuous innovation.
The exhibited works are primarily divided into three categoris. The first encompasses Xu Bing’s complete projects, often large-scale and meticulously realized. These included Five Series of Repetition, Ghost Pounding the Wall, “language series” (Book from the Sky, Square Word Calligraphy, Book from the Ground, Forest Project, etc.), “animal series” (A Case Study of Transference, “Silkworm” series, etc.), Tobacco Project, Where Does the Dust Itself Collect?, “Background Story” series, The Mustard Seed Garden Landscape Scroll, The Character of Characters, and Dragonfly Eyes.
The second group interspersed within the exhibition, nestled between Xu Bing's more recognized works, comprises many incomplete experimental pieces. These works exude a potent sense of experimentation and innovation, eluding conventional classification as either "art" or "design." However, these "fragments" offer valuable insights into Xu Bing's creative process. The exhibition offers case studies of how Xu Bing's art can be extended and applied to various fields, thereby illustrating the practical and societal value of art that he seeks and promotes. Interestingly, many of these pieces have not been exhibited in mainland China before due to a variety of reasons. They may exist merely as entries on the Xu Bing Studio's inventory list, either as precursors or incomplete follow-ups to some of his most significant works.
The third aspect of Xu Bing's work highlighted in this exhibition involves clever, situational responses to varying environments, circumstances, and contexts. New pieces have been specifically tailored to the exhibition space, thereby expanding the scope of the art. The exhibition doesn't simply showcase Xu Bing's works; it also traces his artistic journey, integrating his personal experiences, artistic records, and writings into the exhibition's layout. As a result, visitors are able to delve into Xu Bing's artistic universe and follow his train of thought.
Indeed, this exhibition provides an opportunity to intimately and comprehensively appreciate Xu Bing’s works. Nonetheless, it is our hope that the exhibition, much like Xu Bing’s art itself, offers something beyond expectation in an accessible way and invites the audience to understand the artist’s thought processes from various perspectives. We hope that viewers can experience Xu Bing’s honest attitude towards art and the unending vitality in his modest works. We also anticipate that the exhibition might offer the audience some insight, stemming from the connection between Xu Bing’s artistic approach and his intellectual contributions to the contemporary world. It is our goal to facilitate every viewer's self-rediscovery through Xu Bing’s art, and to encourage them to think outside the box, even if only slightly.
Each piece of work, regardless of its type or past popularity, has its own rationale for inclusion and impact within the exhibition. Taking into account Xu Bing's artistic thinking, the nature of his works, the exhibition space, the architecture of the United Art Museum, and the urban environment that surrounds it, we strive to emphasize the organic relationships among the artworks, thereby providing an immersive experience for the audience. This approach integrates the museum itself as part of Xu Bing's artistic expression. The sensation of "journeying" and the rhythm of the architectural space encapsulated within the exhibition create an in-situ and unique appeal.
Equally noteworthy is the museum's departure from the conventional practice of daytime openings, as they have chosen to present a "night show" for the inaugural event. The exhibition will also remain open during evening hours from Tuesday through Saturday throughout the exhibition period. This unique nocturnal museum experience offers a fresh and unconventional perspective for viewing Xu Bing’s art. By embracing this innovative exhibition format, the museum aligns itself with Xu Bing's own creative principles, encouraging the exploration of art beyond the confines of traditional art systems.
The museum also includes a reading area, which features exhibition catalogs, academic publications on Xu Bing’s art, and his own personal writings. The artist’s documentaries and video materials will be screened in various locations throughout the exhibition. We believe that visitors, with their diverse backgrounds and expectations, will be able to chart their own journey in approaching Xu Bing. In conjunction with this, we have also invited several global scholars devoted to contemporary social and cultural research and who have a long-term interest in Xu Bing’s art, to compose critiques. These writings will form part of the exhibition's archive and will be published at the exhibition's conclusion.
On the opening day, December 1st, from 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM, Professor Han M. De Wolf from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) will deliver a lecture titled "Xu Bing and Marcel Duchamp: The Hidden Mechanics of Language in the Service of the Human Soul" in the atrium of the United Art Museum.
The exhibition will remain on view until May 8th, 2018. Throughout this period, a series of educational programs will be organized.