Art Review Asia: Interview with Xu Bing


Xu Bing is one of the most internationally recognisable Chinese artists, through his art that for many years has addressed issues of cultural and symbolic communication, and for his role as Vice-President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. Born in Chongqing in 1955, Xu earned his bachelor degree at CAFA in 1981, staying on as an instructor afterwards. He left China in 1990 to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, living and working in the United States for 18 years before returning again to China in 2008 to take up his current position. CAFA is one a set of eight academies that represent the official route to recognition as an artist, in China. Xu’s appointment as the head of CAFA represented a loosening of the forms of art acceptable within the academic system, opening the doors to a more general embrace of contemporary art in China’s academia. In 2008 CAFA opened its onsite Museum in a building designed by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, which Xu proudly describes as “the best museum in China,” and it was here that Xu sat down with Art Review to discuss academic life in China and his part in it.

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ArtSlant: What, Then, Can Art Be?

The 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale: “Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World” (curated by Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, Su Wei)

OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Enping Road, Overseas Chinese Town, Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China

12 May – 31 August, 2012

Following their Little Movements exhibition in the same venue last year (which I reviewed on at the time), the curatorial group of Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu and Su Wei return to Shenzhen’s OCT Contemporary Art Terminal to undertake the broader task of a biennale. Despite retaining the moniker of “Sculpture,” this seventh iteration of the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale has less to do with sculpture as a distinct discipline, than with what amounts to a renewed opportunity for the curators to expand on the theories and practices they had expounded in Little Movements.

The choice of the rather contrary title Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World positions this Biennale as a clear statement against large-scale trends or movements. The idea that art imparts, or is itself, an “accidental message” is a troubling but simultaneously interesting proposition given the current state of art. It is troubling in that (aside from the obvious questioning of historical impetus), having thus placed art-making as an “accidental” communication, the curatorial process itself seems to made problematic. This position appears antagonistic to the assumption that a show is curatorially held together with a clear theme or relation.

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ArtSlant: Seedy Showing

Print•Concept: The Second Academic Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Prints

Today Art Museum, Building 4, Pingod Community, No.32 Baiziwan Road, Chaoyang District, 100022 Beijing

7–19 August, 2011

The sound of cracking coming from people’s mouths and underfoot was perhaps the first indication that there was something different about this opening. Today Art Museum’s galleries were filled with the great and good of the Chinese art world for the opening of The Second Academic Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Prints, subtitled: Print•Concept. But throughout, while chatting and viewing the artworks on the walls, many were distractedly clutching small handfuls of sunflower seeds, cracking them open with their front teeth with more or less proficiency, and spitting out or letting the husks fall to the floor in their wake.

While big names in the visual arts such as Xu Bing and Fang Lijun took up the wall space, artist Yan Jun arranged a parallel experience as his own contribution to the show with his piece How To Eat Sunflower Seeds. Yan Jun is famous in the sound art community as a veteran performer and for being pivotal in the development of the Chinese experimental sound and music scene. For the last decade or so he has run the SubJam label, releasing material from a role call of experimental musicians and sound artists from China and beyond.

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Chinese art market confidence

ArtTactic, Chinese Art Market Confidence Survey, Dec 2009

If anyone has a copy of this report, I would be very interested in taking a look (I might even cook you dinner). It would be fascinating to know what their criteria are for measuring “sentiment.” The report appears to look at a good range of artists1, so each one’s comparative results would be interesting to see. I’ve been hearing (mainly from auction results, so that’s pretty selective) that established names are recovering quickly, but the market for younger, less established artists is struggling (as one would expect). Most people I’ve talked to about this subject see these periodic downturns as, by and large, a “good” thing. I’m not denying the pain involved, but it’s a time in which everyone is forced to re-focus on their core strengths and if these aren’t sustainable then, perhaps, it’s time to move on.

The confidence in the Chinese Contemporary art market has strengthened significantly since February 2009, and is now back above the 50 level. The ArtTactic Confidence Indicator has increased from 16 in February 2009, to 57 in November 2009. The current level signals that there is more positive than negative sentiment in the art market. This is the first contemporary art market that ArtTactic has surveyed since the downturn, in which the Confidence Indicator has come in above the 50 level, which implies that the Chinese art market could be one of the quickest to recover.2

  1. Ai Weiwei, Cai Guoqiang, Cao Fei, Chen Wenbo, Fang Lijun, Feng Mengbo, Feng Zhengjie, Gu Dexin, Gu Wenda, He Duoling, He Yunchang, Hong Hao, Li Shan, Li Songsong, Liang Shaoji, Lin Tianmiao, Ling Jian, Liu Wei (B. 1972), Liu Xiaodong, Liu Ye, Lv Shenzhong, Mao Yan, Nie Mu, Qiu Zhijie, Shi Jinsong, Song Dong, Sui Jianguo, Tan Ping, Wang Gongxin, Wang Guangyi, Wang Jianwei, Wang Qingsong, Wang Wei, Wang Xingwei, Wu Shanzhuan, Xu Bing, Xu Zhen, Yang Fudong, Yang Shaobin, Yin Xiuzhen, Yu Hong, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi, Zhan Wang, Zhang Dali, Zhang Huan, Zhang Peili, Zhang Xiaogang, Zhong Biao, Zhou Tiehai, Zhou Xiaohu.
  2. ArtTactic (2009), Chinese Art Market Confidence Survey, Dec 2009. Retrieved from on 12 January 2010.