Xu Bing Studio Blog

“Monkeys Grasping for the Moon” on View at the New U.S. Embassy in Beijing

Posted in Monkeys Grasping for the Moon, On Permanent View by xubing on August 5, 2009

"Monkeys Grasping for the Moon" (2001-2003), 96 ft. of lacquered baltic birch wood on permanent display at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C. (left) and a second set at the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China (right). (Photos: יעקב and Michael JN Bowles

"Monkeys Grasping for the Moon" (2001 and 2003), 96 ft. of lacquered Baltic birch wood on permanent display at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (left). An identical second set is also on view at the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China (right). (Photos: יעקב and Michael JN Bowles)

Xu Bing’s 96 ft. hanging Baltic birch word-puzzle Monkeys Grasping for the Moon (2001 and 2003) is now on view at the visa section of the new Embassy of the United States in Beijing, China, a massive diplomatic complex designed by the Chicago-based architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP (SOM).

Monkey Grasping for the Moon was originally created by Xu Bing in 2001 out of fiberglass for the exhibition Wordplay: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The linked work, comprised of the word monkey in 21 languages, is based on an ancient Chinese folktale and hung for two years over the Sackler’s third level reflecting pool.

Due to its popularity with museum visitors, Monkeys was reconstructed from lacquered Baltic birch wood in 2003 in an edition of two identical 21 character sets and the original fiberglass model was destroyed. One of these sets was gifted to the Sackler by the family of Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Chiang Soong Mayling 1898–2003) in commemoration of her historic visits to the Joint Session of Congress in 1943 and her return to the U.S. Capitol in 1995.

In 2008, Xu Bing Studio was approached by the Art in Embassies Program (AIEP), a vibrant State Department curatorial program that has been working since 1964 to develop the collection of the United States Embassies and to arrange for the exhibition of works of fine art at U.S. diplomatic residences throughout the world. Discussions resulted in a long-term loan of the second set of Monkeys to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Monkeys is included in the exhibition Landscapes of the Mind, organized by AIEP Chief Curator Virginia Shore alongside work by artists Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg, Maya Lin, Yun Fei-ji and Cai Guo-qiang, among others. State Magazine reports on the exhibition here (pdf).

Installed at the U.S. Embassy in October 2009, Monkeys Grasping for the Moon will remain on display. Its matching set can also be viewed at the Sackler Galley, hours and directions here.

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