OUT OF CHARACTER: DECODING CHINESE CALLIGRAPHY

Asian Art Museum Exhibition Uses Contemporary Lens to

Explore Important Collection of Rare Chinese Masterworks

Chinese calligraphy—long considered the most sublime art form in China—is like a carefully choreographed dance, its steps guided by tradition. By manipulating a brush with varied movements and pressures, calligraphers create sensuous strokes: their ink dances across surfaces of silk, satin, or paper, presenting balance within a character, harmony among words, and rhythm across lines of text. With mind and hand in accord, calligraphers express the strength of their character through their characters.

This fall, the Asian Art Museum presents Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy, a compelling new exhibition examining the complexities of this time-honored art form through 40 calligraphies—including 15 noted masterworks, many on public view for the first time—all borrowed from the significant collection of Bay Area entrepreneur Jerry Yang. The calligraphies are supplemented with three major abstract expressionist paintings by Brice Marden, Franz Kline, and Mark Tobey, plus a newly commissioned video installation by acclaimed international contemporary artist Xu Bing. Together, these artworks offer a stimulating exploration of creativity expressed within the constraints of artistic discipline.

The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive catalogue featuring essays by leading calligraphy experts, as well as a multimedia tour—including the perspective of Jerry Yang—and other public programs.

Out of Character is on view at the museum October 5, 2012, through January 13, 2013. The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation is the Presenting Sponsor of the exhibition.

After its presentation at the Asian Art Museum, the exhibition is scheduled to tour to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2014.

“Through the centuries, a complex set of rules and conventions evolved in this art form, governing scripts, styles, formats, content, and context, and impacting every aspect of the Chinese calligrapher’s practice,” said Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. “The unique mix presented in Out of Character—classic calligraphies complemented by modern and new works—offers a framework for understanding that within these constraints, creativity and self-expression remained the goals of the calligrapher.”

The first major exhibition of Chinese calligraphy in the U.S. since 1999, Out of Character is organized by the Asian Art Museum and curated by Dr. Michael Knight, the museum’s senior curator of Chinese art, and Dr. Joseph Chang, senior research fellow at the museum’s Research Institute for Asian Art.

In organizing the exhibition, the curators—with input from several noted scholars from both China and the U. S.—drew upon superb calligraphies from the Guan Yuan Shan Zhuang (The Mountain Villa for Gazing Afar), a significant collection of more than 250 works owned by Yang. Many of the artworks will be on public view for the first time, offering museum visitors a rare opportunity to see such masterworks as Lotus Sutra, a late 13th-to-early-14th-century handscroll by Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). On view also will be the earliest dated calligraphy outside China by Dong Qichang (1555–1636).

“There aren’t many opportunities for people to experience firsthand the complexity and diversity of Chinese calligraphy,” said Jerry Yang. “For me, understanding and appreciating Chinese calligraphy has been a journey of discovery, inspiration, and fulfillment. I’m proud for the Asian Art Museum—known for its scholarship and pursuit of cultural understanding—to share these works with the broader community, enabling others to more fully appreciate the complex beauty and significance of this art form.”

“There is no question that an essential aspect of Chinese culture is its language and writing,” said Robert Y. C. Ho, Chairman of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, “Chinese calligraphy is a highly complex, beautiful and sometimes inscrutable system that has evolved over several millennia and is central to China’s political, cultural and social development. It captures and defines virtually every aspect of Chinese history and culture in a way that perhaps no other art form can.”

Viewers will encounter the bold, streamlined presentation of Out of Character in three key sections: first, an introduction provides an overview of tools, materials, and techniques critical to understanding and appreciating Chinese calligraphy. This section features 25 calligraphies illustrating key elements including format, script, styles, content and context; in the second section, 15 featured calligraphies illustrate in depth the elements presented in the introduction; and third, a contemporary response by artist Xu Bing offers a cultural perspective on the nature of calligraphy.

 

ABOUT THE ASIAN ART MUSEUM

The Asian Art Museum–Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture is one of San Francisco’s premier arts institutions and home to a world-renowned collection of more than 18,000 Asian art treasures spanning 6,000 years of history. Through rich art experiences, centered on historic and contemporary artworks, the Asian Art Museum unlocks the past for visitors, bringing it to life, while serving as a catalyst for new art, new creativity, and new thinking.

 

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