Xu Bing at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery
Columbia University
Above: Xu Bing. Square Word Calligraphy, 2011. Courtesy the artist.
Above: Xu Bing. Square Word Calligraphy, 2011. Courtesy the artist.

7 September–22 October 2011

Reception and Artist’s Lecture
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Reception: 5:00–7:00 pm
Lecture: 7:00–8:30 pm

8th floor, Schermerhorn Hall
116th St. and Broadway
New York, NY

Columbia University’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery celebrates the beginning of the academic year with a presentation of Square Word Calligraphy Classroom by the internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Xu Bing. This thought-provoking, interactive installation by the world-renown contemporary Chinese artist invites visitors to rediscover what it means to write and to read.


Square Word Calligraphy, invented and designed by the artist Xu Bing, is a system that transforms a linear, phonetic system of writing into a character system based on the square. Fusing written English and Chinese, square words arrange the slightly altered letters of an English word into a shape resembling a Chinese character, yet they remain legible to the English reader.


Xu Bing’s installation at the Wallach Art Gallery simulates a classroom setting. Desks with ink, brushes, and copybooks are set out for use by gallery visitors. A video and an instruction manual invite us to participate in the class and provide rudimentary lessons. As visitors learn to recognize and write square words, their ingrained habits of reading and writing are challenged. The artist’s hope is that “while undergoing this process of estrangement and re-familiarization with one’s written language, the audience is reminded of the self-induced distance between systems of language.”


Accompanying the installation of Square Word Calligraphy Classroom, the Wallach Art Gallery will present several large-scale calligraphic works by the artist. These include the first public presentation of Xu Bing’s Reflections on a Poem by Zhu Xi, which was recently donated to Columbia University s C. V. Starr East Asian Library the library.


Related Events:


Thursday, 22 September 2011: Professor Lydia Liu
Jabberwocky in Writing: Xu Bing’s Translingual Experiments
Lecture: 7:00–8:30 pm in the gallery

Wednesday, 5 October 2011: Christopher Calderhead
Alphabet & Ideogram: Calligraphy in a Global Age
Lecture: 7:00–8:30 pm in the gallery


This exhibition and related programming are made possible, in part, by an endowment established by Miriam and Ira D. Wallach. The artist’s lecture is co-sponsored by Columbia University School of the Arts.


Xu Bing’s extensive international exhibition career includes solo exhibitions at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington DC; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; the Joan Miro Foundation, Spain; National Gallery of Prague and the Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas. His work was included in both the 45th and 51st Venice Biennales; the Biennale of Sydney and the Johannesburg Biennale.


Xu Bing was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999, the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2003, and the first Wales International Visual Art Prize, Artes Mundi in 2004. In 2006, the Southern Graphics Council awarded Xu Bing their lifetime achievement award in recognition of the fact that his “use of text, language and books has impacted the dialogue of the print and art worlds in significant ways.” Since 2008, Xu Bing has served as Vice President at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. In 2010, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Columbia University.


Xu Bing’s exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery coincides with the first U.S. installation of “Where Does the Dust Itself Collect? by Xu Bing. Presented in commemoration of the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) and Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) the project will be on view September 8–October 9 at  Spinning Wheel, located at 5 West 22nd Street in Manhattan. Utilizing dust that Xu Bing collected from the streets of Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11, the installation recreates a 25-by-20-foot field of dust across the gallery floor that is punctuated by the outline of a Chan Buddhist poem, revealed as if the letters have been removed from under the dust.


About the Wallach Art Gallery


The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery aims to contribute to Columbia’s long-standing tradition of historical, critical and creative engagement in the visual arts. Since its establishment in 1986, the gallery, modeled on a laboratory, has been a forum for exhibitions related to research by graduate students, faculty and other scholars. The programming provides a bridge between the university’s diverse interests and approaches to the arts and a broad public audience. The gallery is located on the 8th floor of Schemerhorn Hall on Columbia University’s Morningside campus.


About Columbia University


A leading academic and research university, Columbia University continually seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to foster a campus community deeply engaged in understanding and addressing the complex global issues of our time. Columbia’s extensive public service initiatives, cultural collaborations, and community partnerships help define the university’s underlying values and mission to educate students to be both leading scholars and informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia University in the City of New York is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.


September 7, 2011