Chazen Museum of Art


Xu Bing, Background Story: A New Approach to Landscape Painting

October 16 to January 10 | Pleasant T. Rowland Galleries

October 16, 2015 through January 10, 2016

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.

Reception: October 15, 6:30–8 p.m., live music by the Ben Ferris Quintet, refreshments and a cash bar.

Compose a Chinese Landscape: A hands-on activity inspired by artist Xu Bing
Drop in during the Opening Reception on Thursday, October 15. Chazen docents will be present to introduce you to Xu Bing, Background Story: A New Approach to Landscape Painting and to guide you to make a shadow painting with his method and common materials. Work with others to create the final composition. Materials will be provided by the museum. Children younger than 12 years must be accompanied by an adult.


Other related exhibition programming:

Compose a Chinese Landscape: A Hands-on Activity Inspired by Artist Xu Bing on selected weekends:
Saturday, October 24
Sunday, October 25

Saturday, November 14 Part of ART•SPIN Community Celebration
Sunday, November 15
Saturday, December 12
Sunday, December 13
Saturday, January 9

Saturday, November 14
ART•SPIN Community Day 12 noon–3 p.m. Join us for hands-on activities that celebrate the creation of landscapes.

Thursday, December 10
Bridge Poetry Reading 7 p.m., Invited Wisconsin poets in a reading respond to Xu Bing, Background Story: A New Approach to Landscape Painting. Auditorium

A high-resolution version of the gallery guide can be viewed here:

Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by the Chazen Museum of Art Council and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Additional plant materials provided courtesy of the UW-Madison Arboretum.


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