Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

Welcome to the Spencer Collection

Page from Book from the Sky
  • Xu Bing
    born 1955
    born: Chongqing, Sichuan province, China ; active: China, United States
  • Page from Book from the Sky, 1987–1991
  • Volume 1, Page 91
  • woodcut
  • Sheet/Paper Dimensions: 298.45 x 635 mm
    Frame Dimensions: 24 1/4 x 32 1/2 x 1 in
    Weight: 8 lbs
  • Museum purchase: Gift of Arthur Neis
  • Not on display
  • 2008.0332
Label Text

Exhibition Label:
"Cryptograph: An Exhibition for Alan Turing," Mar-2012, Stephen Goddard
First exhibited in China in 1988 and 1989, Book from the Sky (evoked here by a page proof) is an undertaking of epic 43 proportions that addresses the relationship between language and authority and expresses the artist’s conflicted feelings toward words and books in post-Cultural-Revolution China. Xu Bing designed 4,000 characters, carved them in wooden blocks, and used them to print the four volumes of Book from the Sky with painstaking attention to traditional methods of printing and binding. However, the seemingly authentic Chinese characters are inventions of the artist and cannot be read. Although illegible, the work does carry a powerful message, as Xu Bing himself noted, “to change the written word is to strike at the very foundation of a culture.”