Xu Bing

'Things Are Not What They First Appear'

The SCAD Museum of Art presents "Things Are Not What They First Appear," a solo exhibition of work by artist Xu Bing. Considered one of the most important contemporary artists of his generation, Xu Bing is the SCAD deFINE ART 2015 honoree. 

Xu Bing, “Things Are Not What They First Appear.” Photograph by John McKinnon. Courtesy of SCAD.
Xu Bing, “Things Are Not What They First Appear.” Photograph by John McKinnon. Courtesy of SCAD.

Xu Bing is a master of appropriation and interpretation, and his practice often involves working with nontraditional materials in innovative ways to translate texts, study historical images and create monumental installations. "Things Are Not What They First Appear" occupies two spaces within the museum showcasing major works from the artist’s "Background Story" (2004-14) and "Tobacco Project" (1999-2011) series along with "The Character of Characters" (2012) animated video.

Works from the "Background Story" series occupy the SCAD Museum of Art lobby and present Xu Bing’s playful recreation of delicate brushstrokes through the repurposing of plastic bags, refuse and other found materials. The domineering installation of "Background Story: Landscape Painted on the Double Ninth Festival"  (2013) highlights the artist’s contemporary reinterpretation of a hanging scroll from the Qing Dynasty that depicts the festival tradition of mountain climbing on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. From the front side of "Background Story," viewers engage with images of mountains rising through the fog. The exposed reverse side of the work reveals materials and methods of construction.  Works from the "Background Story" illustrate the clever reuse of unexpected materials employed to recreate significant historical images.

In the "Tobacco Project" series, tobacco is both subject and medium. Xu Bing began an exploration of tobacco during an artist residency in the southeastern U.S. His research and works engage with the physical and olfactory properties of tobacco and provide a critique of the multinational tobacco markets, labor issues and cultural implications. "1st Class" (2011), a seminal work from this series, employs more than 500,000 cigarettes in the monumental depiction of a tiger-skin rug. The exhibition also features objects that intertwine East and West through the use of Chinese calligraphy on recognizable objects such as books, scrolls and a minimalist block.

The exhibition culminates with the animated film "The Character of Characters."   The film presents an illustrated look into the history of the Chinese characters and playfully engages with current Chinese social issues. "Things Are Not What They First Appear" offers moments of reflection about the value and significance of materials used in the process of art making. They invite new interpretations and engagements with history and time.

Presented as part of the deFINE ART 2015 program, Feb. 17-19, 2015.


This exhibition is curated by Laurie Ann Farrell, SCAD executive director of exhibitions.

Museum Admission

Daily admission to the exhibition is free for all SCAD students, faculty, staff and museum members. The exhibition is open to the public with the cost of museum admission.

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