Xu Bing


Xu Bing is a visual artist. He was born in Chongqing, China, raised in Beijing, and moved to the United States in 1990 at the age of 35. His works have been shown in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States, in Asia, Europe, Canada, South Africa, and Mexico. In 1999 he received the prestigious MacArthur Award from the MacArthur Foundation. His most recent exhibitions include one-man shows in Taipei, Taiwan, and at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Selected Objects

Storage Jar
China, Gansu or Qinghai Province
Neolithic period, Gansu Yangshao culture, Banshan type, about 3rd-2nd millennium B.C.E.
Earthenware painted with red and black slips
H. 15 5/8 in. (39.7 cm), D. 13 3/4 in. (34.9 cm) without handles; 1979.125

In the past, there were many ceramic jars of this type buried in the loess of northern Shaanxi. Most of them had been used for funerary purposes. Therefore, there was a custom among the local farmers to smash the jars immediately upon discovering them. If they did not, it was considered unlucky. It was only when outsiders began to come to look for the jars that the local people started valuing them. However, most of the jars in the fields had been discovered by that time. Oh well, museums are already full of them anyway.



North China
Tang period, 8th-9th century
Stoneware with glaze
H. 9 3/8 in. (23.8 cm), D. 11 in. (27.9 cm); 1979.130

In the 1980s I went to the mountain area of northern China to try to better understand the culture of the people living there. I found many farmers were using such Tang-period jars as this one for storing rice or salt. I said to them, "Those are valuable cultural relics." The owners replied, "These jars are not convenient. If you can bring us some plastic containers, well find more ceramic jars for you." So now, I actually have some of these jars in my storage room. Whenever I see these cultural relics displayed in museums, I recall the time I saw similar jars sitting on the farmers' cooking counters.