PHOTOS COURTESY HONOLULU ACADEMY OF ARTS
Xu Bing's "A Book From the Sky," in all its glory, displayed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Parts of the installation are on exhibit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts in "Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art ."
‘CONTEMPORARY CHINESE ART, THE ARTIST, AND THE BOOK’
Lecture by Wu Hung, curator of "Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art "
» Place: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts
» Time: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
» Cost: Free
» Call: 532-8700
Shawn Eichman, Honolulu Academy of Arts' curator of Asian art, had been searching for a good contemporary Chinese show for some time when "Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art" arrived on the national scene.
"It immediately stood out," Eichman says, recalling his initial assessment of the exhibit. "It had an interesting concept and includes the very most important Chinese artists working today. Just looking at the checklist of names, it was obvious the show would be exceptional."
Indeed, "Shu" has garnered widespread acclaim for its groundbreaking work focusing on the the essential role books have played in Chinese culture.
"China is the most literate civilization that ever came about," Eichman explains. "It has a tradition of books that dates back centuries; in fact, the oldest printed book, from the ninth century, comes from China."
But in the 20th century, China's relationship with books was radically changed. The Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) restricted Chinese citizens' access to books. The only book available was Mao Ze Dong's "Little Red Book."
"This was the starting point for 'Shu,'" Eichman says.
One of the show's premier artists, Xu Bing, was born to educated parents and spent his childhood in libraries. When the Cultural Revolution hit, the teenage Xu was sent to a work camp and had no access to books.
After the revolution, Xu, in his own words, "devoured" thousands of books until he felt "overstuffed." That feeling became inspiration for Xu's large-scale installation, "A Book From the Sky," in which he spent several years carving 4,000 characters into woodblocks and then printing them. The catch: the characters are without meaning.
Xu "has taken language beyond it's function as a tool; he refers to meaning that goes beyond words," Eichman says.
Xu's exploration is similar to those of other artists in "Shu," Eichman says.
"It's a common theme: taking language for its own visual artistry."
"Shu" continues through Aug. 31 at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $10 general; $5 seniors, students and military; and free to members and children under 12. Call 532-8700.
"Recycle Bin" is a sculpture by Yue Minjun.
"Tea Alchemy" by Wenda Gu.
A page from Colin Qin's "A Self-Portrait Book,"
"Private Notes: Four, no. 6" by Zhang Xiaogang.