- Museum number
- Object: 天書; Tianshu (Book from the Sky)
Four printed book volumes made as a set. Ink on paper, blue paper covers and thread binding. All contained in a walnut box. 'Book from the Sky', by Xu Bing, Beijing, ca. 1988.
- Production date
- 1988 (circa)
Height: 10.20 centimetres (box)
Height: 45.90 centimetres (covers (each volume closed))
Width: 52 centimetres (Open at double page)
Width: 33.60 centimetres (box)
Width: 30 centimetres (covers)
Depth: 2 centimetres (Closed)
Depth: 49.20 centimetres (box)
- Curator's comments
- The British Museum has a set of four hand-printed books that come in a walnut box, which are known by the name "Book from the Sky," which also applies to the art installations Xu Bing has created using printed volumes like these. The first display of "Book from the Sky" was in Beijing in 1988. Printed volumes and sheets of printed paper were placed in large number on the floor and suspended from the ceiling of the room.
The volumes are composed of 4000 invented characters that cannot be decoded. The artist believes that writing is the ‘essence of culture’. The deep frustration viewers feel upon realizing that they cannot read the text highlights the great importance and weight given to written communication by most cultures, which is certainly true of China. Xu Bing's subversion of writing alerts us to its extraordinary power, and the flip side of this is the danger inherent in distorting, manipulating, or eliminating original meaning from the written word. This rejection of readble characters exemplifies the stance of the Avant-Garde calligraphers who emerged after China's Cultural Revolution.
Born into a literary family in Sichuan province, and growing up mostly in Beijing, Xu was forced in the social movement known as the Cultural Revolution, to move from his home and work in an agricultural commune. He later returned to Beijing to study printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) earning a BA in 1981, and staying on as faculty, and earning an MFA in 1987. In 1990 he moved to the United States, settling a few years later in New York City. In 2008 he returned to China (still keeping a studio in NY) to serve as the Vice-president of CAFA.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2015 – 2016 4 Dec – 29 May, National Museum of Singapore, ‘Treasures of the World’s Cultures’
2010 May-Sep, BM, Dept of Asia, The Printed Image in China
2012 5 May -29 July, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ‘The Printed Image in China’
2017-2021 8 Nov-17 Dec, London, BM, G33, rotation
- Acquisition date
- Registration number