Xu Bing: Gravitational Arena made its debut at Museum of Art Pudong

TEXT:Xu Bing Studio Inc.    DATE: 2022.8.26


Xu Bing: Gravitational Arena, 2021-2022

Mixed media installation, 25.5x15.7x15.7m

This is a perspective-based, but not visually terminated installation art piece.

Artist Xu Bing, with his works of great profundity and depth in the international art scene, has always pushed the boundaries of the very definition of art. On August 12th, he presents to the audience at MAP yet another brand-new, visually striking, and profoundly conceptual body of work. As the viewers enter the exhibition hall, they are immediately greeted with a giant “textual vortex” comprised of characters in Square Word Calligraphy. According to the artist’s conception, the flat texts are stretched and pulled from the third and fourth floors of the museum, dipping all the way to the base level, visually penetrating through the giant mirror surface on the base level where the texts also physically conjoin. The artistic language of the work organically embraces and engulfs the vertical open space unique to the museum, making the latter its own.


Xu Bing: Gravitational Arena Documentary, 2022; About 20 minutes 

Standing beneath the work, the viewers can only access the back of the texts. Their spatial elongation and overlaps make them illegible. The inverted texts are reversed and restored in the mirror image for a normal perception, but the viewers who are immersed in the work can never access its full picture. The conjunction of the installation with the museum space presents its own temptation for drama. As the contorted texts slowly adjust to the viewing perspective with the ascension to the higher levels, reaching the top floor, the viewers are finally faced with the front of the text but still remain withheld from it.  



Gravitational Arena Prints: Find the Ideal Perspective, 2021-2022A set of 12 pieces, 90x56.25cmx11, 198.89x56.25cmx1

In truth, this entire installation stands as a physical instantiation of “optical illusion”: one is habituated to reading and writing text on a flat surface, while the spatial protraction of the text withdraws from the viewpoint in the opposite direction. In the transition from 3D to 2D, there is an inherent contestation at play presupposed by linear perspective, activating the work in a constant oscillation between its own form and the viewing perspective, propelling the search for an ideal perspective to impossible heights, exceeding the physical confines of the museum. It can only inhabit conceptually.

The Square Word Calligraphy in the installation transcribes a text by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, on the problematics of“seeing (perception)” and “aspects”. Departing from a simple visual analysis, Wittgenstein proceeds to demonstrate the common cognitive contortions that language imposes on us, from the perspective of linguistic philosophy. Building from Wittgenstein’s work, Xu Bing denotes that “the linear perspective” referenced in this installation, as a language that we use to describe our world, like all others, is the medium between our interior thoughts and exterior reality; the fact that our interior thoughts are also constructed with a myriad of languages only anticipates the inherent loopholes and blind spots within.




Gravitational Arena: Text Comparison, 2021-2022

A set of 3 pieces, 178.5x86.5cm, 86.5x86.5cm, 86.5x81.6cm 

After much deliberation, Xu Bing finalizes the title Gravitational Arena. “Gravitational” seems to correspond with the model of “wormhole” constructed by both the form and the mirror image of the work, while “arena” calls attention to the multitude of “looking” that the exhibition hall allows. The “gravitational” pull on view, in fact swallows the texts into an unreadable chaos. Every component of this chaos points to the unreachable summit above the museum where the “ideal perspective” supposedly resides. The “looking” implicated in the evocation of “Arena”, on the contrary, propels our thoughts outside of the physical “Arena”.

Different cultures have always been in a state of entanglement, contestation, and mutual influence over the course of human civilization, just as all beings on this earth exist within the perpetual push and pull of gravity. This contention provides a significant clue into Xu’s work: the fundamental divergence and deviation among the different cultural aspects are precisely what keep their dissension in perpetuity. We can see this contention like a grandiose performance spanning across history and geography, as one thing, or an ever-shifting competition as another. This elastic contention also emulates the current global predicaments, implicating everyone in its vortex.



Gravitational Arena: Perspective Model Experiment, 2022

Mixed media, 42.6x30.1cm, 108.3x43.6cm, 228.9x49cm

A smaller exhibition space supplements the center installation on the B1 level. Gravitational Arena: Perspective Model Experiment (2022) is a diorama of the central installation. Gravitational Arena: Find the Ideal Perspective (2022) is a diagram illustrating the different visual possibilities for viewing the work, accompanied by a video on the production of this piece. These independent exhibits provide the viewers with different “interfaces” to interpret the work.

Penetrating the vertical space of the museum through all five levels, Gravitational Arena unfolds its different sides and problematics as viewers revisit and return to it on every level of the exhibition. Spatially and conceptually, this central installation resonates in great significance with the retrospective exhibition Xu Bing: Found in Translation on the first and third floors of the museum.


This new work, as an extension and supplement of Xu Bing: Found in Translation, offers a critical new pathway to understanding Xu Bing’s artistic language, compelling us to reflect on the primary relation between human thoughts and the exterior world. Shedding new light on the seventy groups of exhibits by Xu Bing currently on view at the Museum of Art Pudong, Gravitational Arena presents this huge body of work—consisting of nearly a thousand individual pieces—in an entirely renewed perspective. 

Text and Image Courtesy of Xu Bing Studio Inc.