Xu Bing's The Living Word Unveiled

New York, NY, July 19, 2011—Chinese artist Xu Bing's spectacular work, The Living Word 3, was unveiled to the public at The Morgan Library & Museum on Tuesday, July 19, culminating a week-long installation directed by the artist of more than four hundred calligraphic characters. The Living Word 3 soars from the floor of the Morgan's glass-enclosed Gilbert Court towards a position near its third floor balcony—as the characters rise in the air they gradually change from contemporary Chinese letters to ancient pictographic expressions of birds. It is the artist's third and largest version of "The Living Word" series and the first to be displayed in a New York City museum. The work will remain on view through October 2. 

Xu Bing has described The Living Word as a "floating, iridescent cloud of calligraphy" that traces the Chinese character niao, meaning "bird," through time. The characters are painted in rainbow-like colors to create a magical, fairy-tale quality as they rise and escape from the confines of literal definition. The installation at the Morgan also includes a selection of the artist's original sketches for the project.

"Xu Bing has long been attracted to the intersection of word and image," said William M. Griswold, director of The Morgan Library & Museum, "and The Living Word 3 is an extraordinary example of this. Moreover, it is particularly appropriate for the Morgan as it speaks to the focus of our collections on both text and fine art. We are delighted that Xu Bing has specifically designed this work to take full advantage of the beauty of Renzo Piano's architecture."

Though the Morgan is noted for its holdings of American and European art and literature, its founder, Pierpont Morgan, was also interested in Chinese art. He collected art and artifacts from the Middle East as well as Asia, and the Morgan will hold an exhibition this fall of some of its greatest Islamic manuscripts.

Most of the four hundred acrylic characters that make up The Living Word 3 are carefully tied to a specially-made wire grid attached to the Gilbert Court ceiling. The characters are suspended with monofilament, also known as fishing line. The court is the central public crossroads of the museum and includes the popular Morgan Café.

Xu Bing received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999. In 2002 he was awarded the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize and in 2004 received the first Wales International Visual Art Prize, Artes Mundi. Columbia University presented him with a Doctor of Humane Letters in 2010. In 2008, he was appointed vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and he now divides his time between that city and New York.

The artist grew up in Beijing but during the final years of the Cultural Revolution was sent to the countryside to perform farm labor. He entered China's Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1977 to study printmaking, receiving both his bachelor's and master's degrees there.

Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at numerous museums, including the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, the Joan Miró Foundation, Barcelona, and the National Gallery of Prague. His work has also been featured in the 45th and 51st Venice Biennales as well as in the Sydney and Johannesburg biennales.

Since reopening in 2006, The Morgan Library & Museum has mounted a series of critically acclaimed exhibitions devoted to modern and contemporary art, including solo shows of work by Philip Guston, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jim Dine. In the summer of 2010 it held its first exhibition in Gilbert Court with three sculptures by Mark di Suvero.

The installation of The Living Word 3 is made possible by a donation from Susanna and Livio Borghese and further underwritten by Clement and Elizabeth Moore, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky, and The Ricciardi Family Exhibition Fund, in honor of Parker Gilbert and in appreciation of his many contributions to The Morgan Library & Museum.

Generous support is also provided by the American Friends of the Shanghai Museum, with additional assistance from the DeBevoise Calello Family, Helen Little, and Xiling Group.

Public Program

A Conversation with Xu Bing

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm

In conjunction with the installation Xu Bing: The Living Word (July 19 through October 2, 2011), Xu Bing will discuss the genesis of his celebrated work with Isabelle Dervaux, curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings at the Morgan. This program coincides with the publication of Xu Bing, a monograph published by Albion Editions which includes a full chronological account of the artist's life and work, featuring essays by David Elliott, Robert E. Harrist, Jr., Reiko Tomii, and an interview conducted by Andrew Solomon. 

This program is free. Advanced reservations are recommended as seating is limited. Please email: public_programs@themorgan.org 

Xu Bing Publication

This beautifully illustrated monograph on Xu Bing is published by Albion Editions and is the first major publication on one of the most prominent and influential Chinese artists working in the world today. Independent Japanese critic and scholar Reiko Tomii provides a full chronological account of the artist's life and work, from his student experiences in rural China and his involvement with the 1985 New Wave movement, which jump-started the rapid ascent of Chinese contemporary artists, to his move to the United States in the 1990s and subsequent success on the global stage. British curator and critic David Elliott and Robert E. Harrist Jr., Jane and Leopold Swergold Professor of Chinese Art History at Columbia University, explore key aspects of his practice and place it within the context of both recent Chinese history and international contemporary art, and an interview between Xu Bing and acclaimed author Andrew Solomon sheds light on recent events in the artist's life. 

The Morgan Library & Museum

The Morgan Library & Museum began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, one of the preeminent collectors and cultural benefactors in the United States. Today, more than a century after its founding in 1906, the Morgan serves as a museum, independent research library, musical venue, architectural landmark, and historic site. In October 2010, the Morgan completed the first-ever restoration of its original McKim building, Pierpont Morgan's private library, and the core of the institution. In tandem with the 2006 expansion project by architect Renzo Piano, the Morgan now provides visitors unprecedented access to its world-renowned collections of drawings, literary and historical manuscripts, musical scores, medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, printed books, and ancient Near Eastern seals and tablets. 

General Information

The Morgan Library & Museum

225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street, New York, NY 10016-34


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The Morgan Library & Museum
Patrick Milliman

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