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Xu Bing: Seizing the Day


Text by Liang Sufang Uncredited photographs courtesy of Xu Bing

Although Wenling of Zhejiang Province is his ancestral home, Xu was born in Chongqing in 1955, and grew up in Beijing. In 1977, he was admitted to the Printmaking Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. After graduation in 1981, he stayed at the academy as a teacher. In 1987, he received a master´s degree from CAFA and moved to the United States in 1990. Xu returned to China in 2007 and served as vice president, professor, and Ph. D. supervisor at CAFA. His work has been exhibited at the New York-based Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Louvre, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Venice Biennale.

Sacrificing his independence as an internationally renowned artist, Xu Bing returned to China in 2007, and a year later accepted an appointment as vice president of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), which thrust him into the spotlight of China’s art and education circles. 

After graduating from CAFA’s Printmaking Department in 1981, Xu remained at the school as a teacher. In 1990, he left CAFA for the United States. From that point forward, he lived abroad for 18 years. His work, including Book from the Sky, Ghost Pounding the Wall, and Square Word Calligraphy, won considerable acclaim, positioning him amongst the top contemporary Chinese artists in the international arena. Now, Xu has served as CAFA Vice President for nearly five years.

Along with his lofty reputation in the Western art world, the avant-garde Chinese artist is also widely accepted in the Chinese educational system. When asked about his method of surviving in the system, Xu’s recalled his own education at CAFA some 30 years ago. Xu believed that CAFA embodied the basic concepts of China’s art education. Its tradition focuses on reality and service to the people. After performing excellently at CAFA, Xu visited many countries and sought their respective artistic atmospheres. The artistic values he learned in his early days continue to bring him the greatest inspiration today. “Some have marveled at my ability to continually produce new creations,” he reveals. “The reason is that I know, as an artist, how to connect with the real world.”

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