In 1991, Xu Bing held his first exhibition in the United States, at the Elvehjem (now the Chazen) Museum of Art. Since that time, Xu Bing has become one of the world’s best-known artists. On October 16, he returns to Madison with Xu Bing, Background Story: A New Approach to Landscape Painting. The length of the larger Pleasant T. Rowland Gallery will host what appears to be a traditional Chinese ink painting on eighty feet of rice paper. Students of traditional Chinese art may recognize it as a version of the often-copied Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains by Huang Gongwang (1269–1354), one of the Four Yuan Masters. From the Ming and Qing dynasties up to the Republican era, important artists all made copies of this masterwork, or are recorded as having done so.
As is often the case with Xu Bing, the artwork is not what it first appears to be.
Instead of rice paper, a light box stretches through the gallery. On one side is the tribute to Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains. On the other side, the light box is open, revealing hundreds of LED lights and the dried grasses, plastic bags, sticks, rocks, tape, and all manner of detritus that cast the shadows and create the shapes that depict the “painting” on the other side. The exhibition will also include demonstration light boxes and an interactive station where visitors can try their hand at turning bits of ordinary materials into an inspirational image.