Monday, November 26, 2012

Words as Art

In conjunction with their special Chinese calligraphy exhibit, the Asian Art Museum has installed various examples of "Words as Art" throughout their permanent collections on the second and third floors.

I was dismissive of the Out of Character exhibit at first sight, because it seemed obscure and impenetrable if you didn't read Chinese.

The revelation came about a month ago while seated in front of a huge, curved wall installation that has been devoted to the 16th century Thousand Character Classic by Wen-Peng. The characters are so sharp and comprehensible that it feels a bit like seeing the Helvetica font version of Chinese calligraphy. The longer you look the more there is to notice, in the repeating patterns that constitute the characters, and the beauty in their forthright presentation. (Photo above is from the Asian Art Museum blog.)

After studying the Wen-Peng, where you have memorized the basics of 1,000 characters, everything else is stylization, such as Poem in wild-cursive script above from 1674 by Monk Pomen.

The Chinese galleries in the permanent collection are also displaying some stunners from the 19th century, such as the 1804 Studio of Knowledgeable Friends by Yi Bingshou above and Zhao Zhiqian's 1883 Couplet from a poem by Yuan Haowen below.

Though it is completely illusory, I am starting to feel like I can read Chinese.

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