An installation by Xu Bing - Background Story 7

12 May – 10 July 2011

Exhibition closed

Room 3

The Asahi Shimbun Displays
Objects in focus

Supported by

Discover the secrets behind this shadow-and-light box installation by contemporary artist Xu Bing, inspired by a Chinese painting in the Museum’s collection.

Nearly 5 metres tall, Xu Bing’s artwork is made using materials such as hemp fibres, dry plants, corn husks, crumpled paper and debris sourced from sites across London, placed on a backlit screen. Seen from the front, the work looks like the brush strokes of a Chinese painting, but step behind and the illusion is shattered. The installation was created on site by Xu Bing and will only exist for the duration of the display.

The work is the latest in the series of installations by the internationally renowned Chinese artist. Background Story 7 is a direct response to a hanging scroll of a Chinese landscape by Wang Shimin dating to 1654 and is specially commissioned for the British Museum.

Image adapted from Background Story 3

Image adapted from Background Story 3. Image courtesy of Xu Bing Studio.


  • An introduction to Background Story 7

    Xu Bing talks about the inspiration for Background Story 7 and describes the intricate and complicated process of creating the installation. 

  • Watch the build in 60 seconds

    Video: front view
    Watch Xu Bing's installation appear.

  • Watch the build in 60 seconds

    Video: back view
    See how the installation was constructed.

Find out more

Chinese landscapes
Jan Stuart, Keeper of Asia, talks about the ancient tradition of Chinese landscape painting that finds resonance in contemporary art.

Download mp3 – 8 minutes, 8MB)

Xu Bing in conversation
Talking with Philip Dodd, former director of the ICA, Xu Bing reveals his views on contemporary art, some of the secrets behind the display, his other artistic creations, and his life story. Listen to the full recording here:

Download mp3 – 79 minutes, 72MB)

Inspiration from the collection
In Background Story 7, Xu Bing responds to an archetypical ink landscape from the Museum's collection by a celebrated scholar artist, Wang Shimin (1592 – 1680). View the painting

Essay on Xu Bing's work
Background Stories: Xu Bing’s Art of Transformation 
Robert E. Harrist, Jr.

This essay is taken from the book Xu Bing by
David Elliott et al published by Albion Press. The translation has been funded courtesy of Ms Kai-Yin Lo.