Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China

December 11, 2013–April 6, 2014

The Written Word: Book from the Sky

Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China

徐冰 天书 Xu Bing (b. 1955). Book from the Sky, ca. 1987–91. Installation of hand-printed books and ceiling and wall scrolls printed from wood letterpress type; ink on paper. Collection of the artist

Book from the Sky, first mounted in China in 1988 and 1989 and subsequently displayed many times in different countries, is one of the most iconic works of contemporary Chinese art. The presentation within Ink Art, overseen by the artist and his studio, reflects the specific characteristics of this space, but remains consistent with the artist's desire to create an environment that immerses the viewer in a sea of imaginary words: open books spread across the floor, long sheets suggestive of handscrolls suspended from the ceiling, and bulletin-board–like arrays of vertical panels along the walls.

But while the work is inspired by the form and typography of traditional Chinese woodblock publications, faithfully replicating every stylistic detail of traditional Chinese printing, not a single one of its roughly 1,200 characters—each printed with type hand-carved by the artist—is intelligible. Each of these imaginary characters conveys the appearance of legibility but remains defiantly undecipherable.

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