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Xu Bing: Square Word Calligraphy: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt Whitman

Xu Bing (Chinese, born 1955). Square Word Calligraphy: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt Whitman, 2018. Ink on paper, 893/8 x 4813/16 in. (227 x 124 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Xu Bing to the Brooklyn Museum in honor of his father, 2018.24a–b. (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

One: Xu Bing

October 25, 2019–March 12, 2020

Focusing on a major new gift to our world-renowned collection of Chinese art, One: Xu Bing highlights the painting Square Word Calligraphy: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt Whitman (2018), by one of China’s most important living artists. Created specifically for the Brooklyn Museum in consultation with curator Susan L. Beningson, the work celebrates Xu Bing’s close relationship with Brooklyn, where he lived in the 1990s and maintains a studio today. Square Word Calligraphy: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Walt Whitman pays homage to Walt Whitman and is on display in 2019 in honor of the poet's 200th birthday. Whitman served as an early librarian at the Brooklyn Apprentices’ Library Association (the Brooklyn Museum’s predecessor), and this exhibition also includes material from our Archives that explores his relationship to the Museum. Known as the American poet of democracy, Whitman's poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” portrays our interconnectedness and asks an important question: “What is then between us?”

Xu Bing developed “square word calligraphy” as a system for writing English in the early 1990s after he came to New York. Although the rectangular units of writing resemble Chinese characters, each one is actually a word in English. The overall work spells out the first section of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” reflecting Xu Bing’s experience living between two cultures while in New York. Xu Bing has said that “If I had continued living in China, this work never would have arisen; it was a result of my living in New York. But I never would have known about Walt Whitman if I hadn’t lived in Brooklyn.”

One: Xu Bing is curated by Susan L. Beningson, Assistant Curator, Asian Art, Brooklyn Museum.

Each exhibition in the One Brooklyn series focuses on an individual work chosen from our encyclopedic collection, revealing the many stories woven into a single work of art. One Brooklyn is made possible by a generous contribution from JPMorgan Chase & Co.