Xu Bing entered the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, in 1977, and eventually began to teach and acquired his Master of Fine Arts there. In 1989 he participated in the pioneering and seminal Chinese contemporary art exhibition China Avant-Garde at the National Gallery, Beijing. A year later, Xu became honorary fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and moved to the United States. Starting in 1993, the year in which Xu moved back to Beijing, he began to exhibit widely throughout the world and gained international prominence as an artist and educator.
In 2004, with ash collected from the streets of New York just after 11 September 2001, Xu Bing’s installation Where Does the Dust Itself Collect won the inaugural Artes Mundi, the Wales International Visual Art Prize. An extension of the installation, New English Calligraphy - Zen Poetry III contains the well-known stanza from the Platform Sutra, the Buddhist scripture composed by Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen. By quoting the verse considered the true expression of Zen faith in his conceptual alphabet, Xu explores a multi-dimensional way of thinking beyond the framework of language, deconstructing and reconstructing characters, with a narrative
that is neither Chinese nor English.
ART, ZEN AND SPIRITUALITY
The second half of the twentieth century saw a group of Hong Kong artists preoccupied with Chinese philosophy and particularly, Zen. For them, art was a means to explore paths to spirituality and enlightenment. Classically trained by his artist father, Lui Shou Kwan departed from his traditional brushwork to create abstract Zen paintings (Lots 808, 809, 812). Often executed in the last decade of his life, most Zen paintings show bold, black ink brushworks and a contrasting, red small dot against a white backdrop. The composition represents a universal theme – the lotus, which symbolises eternity, purity and Buddhahood. Chinese philosophy was Lui’s lifelong pursuit and as a teacher he taught his student to embrace Zen in all aspects of their life. Irene Chou (Lot 806), Lui’s student, used meditation to liberate herself from preconceptions and to facilitate free self-expression. Her artistic practice brought her closer to compassion, one of the key tenets in Buddhist philosophy. Kwok Hon Sum (Lot 807) studied under Liu Kuo-sung at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Fascinated by Tibetan monastery wall paintings and cultural relics, Kwok often placed a small gilded square of gold leaf in the top part of his painting, with repeating seated Buddha icons reminiscent of the Thousand Buddha Caves. One cannot stop admiring the arresting colours in Kwok’s painting which evoke meditation and reverie. Xu Bing’s thought-provoking New English Calligraphy (Lot 813) provides a close reading of the renowned stanza of Zen poetry by Huineng. As Xu’s English calligraphy demands undivided attention to read, a state of tranquillity is attained through the journey to reflect on Zen.