Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2021 Autumn Auctions
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Xu Bing (b.1955)
New English Calligraphy: Wang Wei Deer Exclosure (Diptych)

Ink on paper

90 × 75 cm. × 2 35 3/8 × 29 1/2 in. × 2

Stamped with two artist's seals on the upper center of the left piece and on the bottom right of the right piece
Private Collection, Asia

Note: This work is confirmed by the artist's studio as the authentic work of the artist

Subversion and Reconstruction, the Contemporary Revolution of Characters
Xu Bing's Unique New English Calligraphy

“Words are the most basic element of the human culture concept. Touching words means touching the foundation of culture, and the transformation of words is the transformation of the most essential part of human thinking. This transformation touches the soul, the true ‘cultural revolution'.”
—— Xu Bing

In 1999, Xu Bing won the MacArthur Fellowship, the highest award in American culture for his “creativity and contribution to society”, It is undoubtedly an accomplished and important Chinese artist in the international contemporary art scene. In more than 40 years of creation, he has continued to use characters as Chinese cultural symbols and elements to show in-depth thinking about the nature of characters and cross-cultural issues. His works have a profound and huge influence in the Eastern and Western art circles and have been included in world art history textbooks many times and collected by authoritative world art museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the British Museum in London. He also held solo exhibitions in the Sackler National Gallery, London Victoria and Albert Museum, Today Art Museum in Beijing, Venice Biennale, and other large institutions and art venues, gaining a high reputation worldwide.

Simultaneous Developing of Form and Meaning, the Horizons of New Characters Transcending both East and West

In 1990, Xu Bing was invited by the University of Wisconsin in the United States to emigrate to the United States as an honorary artist. He often encountered difficulties in communication, which inspired him to explore the East-West language and the connection characters. In 1993, based on the 26 English letters, he introduced Chinese calligraphy stroke-style writing rules, and spelled a single English letter into the structural order of Chinese characters up and down, creatively reconciling the two into a new font, the New English Calligraphy series. Since then, he has selected classical and modern poetry, Chairman Mao's quotations, and other texts with historical, cultural value, and social significance as the writing objects of the new English calligraphy, combining form and meaning to show his creative thinking. Quotations From Chairman Mao (Lot 72) and Wang Wei Deer Exclosure (Lot 71) presented at this auction are the important and representative classics in this series.

Combining Ancient and Modern, Contemporary Writing of Classical Poetry

Wang Wei Deer Exclosure traces traditional Chinese poetry, inspired from the classic Deer Exclosure by Wang Wei, a landscape poet of the Tang Dynasty. It is presented as a doublet, which is similar to a poem with a calligraphy style, creating a new way of reading for both Eastern and Western readers.

Xu presents the poems with his new English calligraphy characters. Through the right-to-left writing method familiar to people in the West and nowadays, he fills in the text with contemporary characteristics. In terms of content, Xu translates the original poem into English word by word corresponding to each character in the poem, uniquely and humorously using English literal translation on the left and a combination of pinyin letters on the right. His new English calligraphy characters achieve the same goal with different forms, pointing out the universality of communication between east and west. Traditional calligraphy and modern English blend here to form an innovative artistic vocabulary that combines the beauty of classical poetry and contemporary art. People can transcend the boundaries of text and national borders and experience the artistic power of the Eastern tradition through the aesthetic platform built by Xu with new English calligraphy.

Innovate through the Old, the Change of Characters in the Era

Looking back on the art life of Xu, characters are the foundation of his enlightenment and are inseparable from the shaping of his thoughts. Xu grew up in a family of intellectuals and grew with books in the library of Peking University where his mother worked. In 1977, he was admitted to the Printmaking Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. After Cultural Revolution, the literary and art circles were deeply influenced by Chairman Mao's art policy published at Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art. Even the teaching methodology of the academy also follows the “Art serves the people.” policy. The text reform and simplification movement had been launched since the founding of the People's Republic of China, accompanying Xu's growth experience, and paved the way for his creation of characters. In 1989, he made a sensation in the art world with his Book from the Sky exhibited in the National Art Museum of China, which became the beginning of his character creation. After going to the United States in 1990, he explores the further relationship between language and communication and establishes higher art achievement with the New English Calligraphy.

In 2000, the tenth year after initiating the New English Calligraphy series, Xu created Quotations From Chairman Mao presented at this auction. It is his multi-dimensional explorations in the political, ideological, and cultural fields. In this series, “Quotations from Chairman Mao” is a very important theme and has gained international attention. The new English Calligraphy work, Art Serves the People, is completed in 1999 with yellow characters written on a red flag, which was hung at the entrance of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, sparking extensive discussion in the East and West art circles.

Reshape New Knowledge, Reset the Contemporary Meaning of “Quotations from Chairman Mao”

In this magnificent 312cm-long banner scrollwork, Xu Bing reverses the reading direction of traditional calligraphy. Instead, viewers should from the left to right in this work. “Thousands of Working People” is the headline, with an excerpt from Chairman Mao's speech at the Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art in May 1942.

For viewers who are familiar with the content of the forum, it is not difficult to find that the sentences in the work are not presented in the correct order. The sentence at the end of the volume “Our art should serve the thousands of working people.” is the first in the original article. “But among our comrades engaged in literary and artistic work in the anti-Japanese base areas, this problem seems to have been resolved and no longer needs to be discussed. This is not the case.” should be the following sentences, while Lenin's part should be at the end of the original manuscript, appearing as a comment. Xu disorders the sentences to make the audience confused about the text in the jumping reading and the misplaced logic. Through the correction of the order of the sentences, the viewers could recall the content in the memory. Whether it is the misplacement of the reading order or the presentation of the new English calligraphy, Xu intends to reflect on the possibility of cultural exchanges between China and the West. Can the words by the leader also gain wider recognition and new understanding in the world today?

The political art movement, “Art serves the people.” has profoundly influenced the artistic pursuit of an era and a generation in China. Xu does not create this out of personal interests, but in collective memories, he understands the responsibilities that art has been given to the times from the perspective of contemporary artists. As he says, “From Chairman Mao's ideology, we have obtained a traditional wisdom method that is mutated without losing its essence, which has become a part of our worldview and character.” Through the new language that can be understood by both Chinese and Western people, Xu discloses the quote of Chairman Mao to the Western audience in an extremely special reading mode or calligraphy mode. The work also conveys Xu's interpretation of contemporary ideology. For him, past experiences have shaped our cognition of words and culture, but they have also caused certain limitations. With the changes of the times, the poems and songs that represent the peak of the culture of the historical period and the most reasonable maxims that carry the ideological value of an era will not be forgotten. On the contrary, the wisdom from the tradition and the cultural thoughts of the past are in the process of continuous deciphering, re-translation, and promotion at present, which have been transformed into new guidelines, leading to new literary spirit, and achieving new cultural ideas. With his newly created Chinese and Western calligraphy forms, Xu integrates tradition and the present, culture and text, inheritance and creative thinking, so that the world can learn new knowledge from this innovative artistic concept and become the rewriting of the artistic concept of the current era.

Price estimate:
HKD: 350,000 - 550,000
USD: 45,000 - 70,700

Auction Result:
HKD: 480,000



All information contained in this website is for reference only,
and contents will be subject to change without prior notice.
All estimates and auction results shown in currencies other than
the Hong Kong Dollar are for reference only.
Although the Company endeavors to ensure the accuracy of the information,
it does not guarantee the accuracy of such information.
And hence will not be responsible to errors or omissions contained herein.

Wechat QR Code

Please use the "Scan QR Code"
function in Wechat