Book from the Sky

Xu Bing (born 1955)
ca. 1987–1991
Installation of hand-printed books and ceiling and wall scrolls printed from wood letterpress type; ink on paper
Each book, open: 18 1/8 × 20 in. (46 × 51 cm); three ceiling scrolls, each: 38 in. × approx. 114 ft. 9 7/8 in. (96.5 × 3500 cm); each wall scroll: 9 ft. 2 1/4 in. × 39 3/8 in. (280 × 100 cm)
Credit Line:
Lent by the artist
Rights and Reproduction:
© Xu Bing
Not on view
This set of four books forms part of an eponymous installation first displayed in Beijing in 1988. The books contain four thousand invented characters that cannot be decoded, raising fundamental questions about the Chinese identity and its relationship to the written word. The artist believes that writing is the “essence of culture.” His subversion of it speaks to our need to communicate and the dangers of distorting or eliminating intended meaning.

Born in Sichuan Province, Xu Bing studied printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Book from the Sky and other projects have brought him considerable international renown. He moved to the United States in 1990 but returned to China in 2008 to teach at his alma mater.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China," December 9, 2013–April 6, 2014.