25 Contemporary Chinese Artists You Need to Know

Xu Bing

Medium: Installation

Based in: Beijing

Xu Bing has been a major player in Chinese art for over 30 years. He creates extremely complex, systematic projects that often become large-scale, attention-grabbing installations. In 1987, he developed a vocabulary of 4,000 symbols that appear like Chinese characters but have absolutely no meaning in any language. He carved each into a wooden block and hand-printed them into a series of nonsense volumes, known as Book from the Sky. He later tattooed a pig with his made-up characters and put it in a pen with another pig inked with nonsense words in the English alphabet; the piece became notorious when the two pigs started going at it in the exhibition. Xu has also invented and even taught classes in Square Word Calligraphy, a method of writing English words in a script that looks like Chinese characters. His recent work has focused on non-linguistic matters, as the aptly-named Phoenix above, which was created from the demolition debris and materials found on Chinese construction sites.

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