Archive for 'Out of Character'

After a Night Rain

Chen Xianzhang, After a Night Rain.

After a Night Rain by Chen Xianzhang, 1428–1500. China. Ink on paper. Museum purchase, B68D6.

Our librarian John recently translated a poem from a work in our collection. Below is the original Chinese text and his beautiful English translation; above is the calligraphy. We hope you enjoy it.

陳獻章  : (雨夜後詩)

蒼山收雨鵓鳩靈

曉雨松花對曉晴

風日醉花花醉鳥

竹門啼過两三聲

 

After a Night Rain

—-Chen Xianzhang

When it rains in these blue-green hills

The pigeons become ghosts:

(unseen,

unheard).

Yet,

When sparkling-dry daybreak comes

& the pines and flowers,

alike,

Greet the brilliant dawn,

Then

The birds, like the flowers, flutter

Drunkenly

In the brilliant breeze,

Even now,

I hear their cries penetrate the

Bamboo gate.

Your Handy Dandy Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re still working on your holiday shopping, make our museum store the ultimate destination. Our wonderful wares are as diverse as their price tags, so you’re bound to find the perfect gift for the special people in your life. Here are some ideas for your gift giving needs:

Get Cozy

Who doesn’t like a warm pot of tea?  Brew a single serving with inlaid celadon (delicate, pale green ceramic) teacups from Korea. Got company? Share with Chinese Yixing (clay) or Japanese iron teapots. Get the most out of your brew with books detailing the history and highly codified ritual that surround the noble camellia sinensis, or just learn exactly how long you should be steeping your oolong.

Books on tea shown, $16.99-$32.50
Tea vessels, $30+
Tea whisk, $18.00

Practice, Practice, Practice


Begin your Chinese instruction one stroke at a time: Buddha Boards and Chinese Character a Day get you just a little closer to your goal of mastering the art.  If you’ve practiced calligraphy, you’ll know your mistakes can add up.  With the Buddha Board, all you need is water—your less-than-perfect work will evaporate, leaving you with a clean slate.  Chinese Character a Day offers 365 days of education: the journey begins when you want to begin.

Buddha Boards, $12.95-$34.95
Chinese Character a Day, $16.95

Make Your Own Adventure


Stir up storytelling time with robots.  Build Your Own Paper Robots comes with a CD that allows you to print 2D paper into 3D mecha fun.  Great for older kids or anyone with engineering acumen.  For fans of readymade cubic construction, Monster Village Sets include over 90 blocks that can make mobile monsters (includes manga storybook/instructions, not for children under age 3).

Build Your Own Paper Robots, $9.98
Monster Village, $27.50

Shine and Sparkle


Dim days and long nights call for a little added brightness.  Calligraphic-inspired jewelry in rhodium-plated silver glows white-hot.  Next to platinum, rhodium is the hardest of metals, ensuring that these one-of-a-kind pieces won’t tarnish or corrode.

$45-$475

The Lettering of Letters

Lee gallery, Out of Character

I find it fascinating that in China letters provide some of the earliest evidence of calligraphy being considered a visual art. As Bai Qianshen points out in a recent essay, the earliest extant personal letters in China date from the time of the First Emperor (221–210 BCE—be sure to visit our exhibition, coming in February). Early in the first century CE an emperor of the Han dynasty is said to have sent a special envoy to request ten letters from a famous calligrapher who was on the verge of dying. By the late fourth century, the famous calligrapher Wang Xianzhi (344–404) finished a letter he was sending to his emperor: “my calligraphy in this letter is quite good.  I wish it to be kept and stored away.” Letters like his and many, many others serve as an example of two different functions of calligraphy: as writing and as a visual art.  The content of most letters tends to be personal and private; on the other hand, the calligraphy is intended for public consumption.

By the Ming dynasty (1369–1644) treating letters as works of art was a well-established tradition. Special colored and decorated papers were designed specifically for them and letters were collected and bound together in large albums. An example of such a collection is on display in Lee Gallery. We can only show two pages each from two of the five albums in the collection, which features letters written by a remarkable array of Ming dynasty scholars, court officials and calligraphers. A discussion of these letters can be found in Xiao Yanyi’s essay in the exhibition catalogue (see pages 118-127).

Water Stains on the Wall

Xu Bing in front of his video installation 'Character of Characters' at the Asian Art Museum

Xu Bing in front of his video installation ‘Character of Characters’

Our book on Xu Bing’s fascinating animation The Character of Characters will be arriving in the museum store soon.  Featuring essays by Britta Erickson, a leading expert on Chinese contemporary art, and by the artist, as well as a version of the actual animation, its arrival will be something to keep on your radar.

We have just finished translating Xu Bing’s essay, which makes clear the artist’s intellectual as well as artistic depth.  It follows the order of the animation and makes many aspects much clearer; it is also full of delightful and sometimes challenging references to writings from the past.  An example is the simple sentence: “The stroke’s force should convey the aesthetic sensibility of ‘water stains caused by rain on the wall of a country cottage’.”

If you’ve seen Out of Character already, that quotation may sound familiar. Included in the exhibition is a video of contemporary dance work Water Stains on the Wall, by Cloud Gate Dance Theater from Taiwan.

The title of Cloud Gate’s work and Xu Bing’s reference both derive from a legendary conversation between two of the most respected Chinese calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907):

“Where do you get inspirations for your calligraphic style?” asked Yan Zhenqing, whose signature style of standard script brought Chinese calligraphy to a new height. “I observe summer clouds that resemble mountains with spectacular peaks,” replied Huaisu, the young monk who later became the most renowned master of wild cursive style. “The most exciting parts remind one of birds flying out of woods and snakes slithering into bushes. . .” “How about water stains on the wall?” asked Yan Zhenqing. “Right on! You old devil!” exclaimed Huaisu.

Water stains on a wall are the result of a long process of natural, organic, and fluid evolution. The legend of the conversation established “water stains on the wall” as a popular metaphor that represents the highest aesthetics of Chinese calligraphy. Inspired by this metaphor, choreographer Lin Hwai-min and the Cloud Gate dancers create an abstract work of spellbinding beauty and breathtaking technique that stands sublimely on its own.

We’re thrilled that in Out of Character you can experience both of these contemporary works in the context of the artform that inspired them. And be looking for the publication on Xu Bing’s The Character of Characters at the museum store soon.

A Tribute to the Giants

Here we are again, in a position that just three years ago seemed impossible: World Series Champions.

From 1954—when they still called the NY Polo Grounds home—until the charmed 2010 season, the Giants had not won a championship. Now, two years later, another one? After waiting 56 years, after watching even the Red Sox win (twice), after coming within eight outs in 2002, finally, two titles in three years seems almost greedy, an embarrassment of baseball riches.

For those that consider baseball a slow, even dull game, I ask you to reconsider. It is a game of finesse, of inches, of highs and lows stretched across a season of 162 games. It rewards those with patience. In fact, it is remarkably like the practice of calligraphy. Talent is helpful, of course, but more important is training, repeating each movement so that it becomes an instinctual reaction. There’s no room for error – one slip of the brush or a dropped ball and the game, or calligraphy, is dramatically changed. Both are tests of endurance and provide the powerful possibility of redemption. And if there was one overarching theme of this entire postseason—as opposed to 2010’s torture—it was redemption. From what was arguably Barry Zito’s greatest pitching performance of his (Giants) career, to Tim Lincecum’s resurrection out of the bullpen, to Gregor Blanco’s defense eliminating all memories of the disgraced Melky Cabrera, to Pablo Sandoval’s offensive streak (in stark contrast to his abysmal 2010), to journeyman Marco Scutero’s NLCS MVP performance, this postseason was about coming back from the brink of disaster to achieve greatness.

And achieve it they did. Despite what the media may have claimed, the Giants did not win with lucky breaks. Their performance in the World Series was remarkable in its simplicity: extraordinary defense, masterful pitching, and timely hitting. Executing each play to perfection quieted even the most skeptical of critics, and more, importantly, the Tigers.

So when you’re done celebrating all things orange and black, come by the museum (please note we’re closed on Wednesday for Giants festivities) and check out our current exhibition Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy.

Designing “Out of Character”

Wen Peng Thousand Character Essay Installed

Strong visual impact was a primary goal for our exhibition Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy.  This is not always easy to accomplish in an art form often intended for private viewings by small groups or individuals.  An example is Thousand Character Classic by Wen Peng (1498-1573), an album of 85 double leaves.  The album is a format that is meant to be viewed page by page, but we asked Marco Centin, our exhibition designer, Shiho Sasaki, our paper conservator, and Vincent Avalos, our mount maker to come up with a way to show all 85 leaves and the cover on a large curved wall.  As shown in the photograph here, their solution is ingenious and the result is stunning and magical.  It took almost the entire summer for the team to make this happen!

Installing Calligraphy

Curators Michael and Joseph in front of the installation of Wen Peng's Thousand Character Essay

Curators Michael and Joseph in front of the installation of Wen Peng’s “Thousand Character Essay”. Photo courtesy of Jerry Yang.

Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy opens next week, and installation is in full swing. This is always a frantic, stressful, and exciting time for us, especially for the people at the coal face: curators, registrars, conservators and the preparations team.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to walk past one of the galleries while the team was installing. I felt compelled to press my face against the tinted glass doors to try to get a better look. Although unfinished, the display in the galleries is breathtaking. I must confess, I had trouble getting excited about an exhibition of calligraphy at first. But having seen the exhibition take shape over the past few months, I can’t wait for it to open. It’s going to be amazing.

Luckily for you, our photographer has been snapping some images of the installation, so you can have your own sneak peek on Flickr. Out of Character opens on October 5, but we’re kicking off with artist Xu Bing and collector Jerry Yang in conversation with museum director Jay Xu on October 4. See you there.

 

 

 

Chinese Calligraphy: What’s the Point?

It was a Friday night at my house, and to celebrate I was watching hit 1970s British period drama Upstairs Downstairs. Suddenly, a scene unfolded that reminded me of our upcoming Chinese Calligraphy exhibition and my confusion about the whole thing. Let me tell you about it.

I’ll set the stage: we have Mr. Hudson, a servant and strict adherent to the Victorian era’s hierarchical social values. And then there’s one Thomas—young, handsome, iconoclastic and, significantly, a chauffeur of motor-cars. When the two meet, sparks fly!

One day, Mr. Hudson is hunched over at the table, writing inexplicably with ink and quill. Just then, Thomas comes in from an afternoon drive, takes off his motor-car gloves, and peers over Mr. Hudson’s shoulder. “What’s this?” he asks.

“It’s handwriting,” answers Mr. Hudson in an imperious tone, “something of a hobby.”

“Handwriting! That’s very nice,” Thomas says. “What sort of stuff do you write, apart from Christmas cards?”

Mr. Hudson, a little flustered, replies, “What do I write? Well, I copy out passages from newspapers.”

“Copy!” says Thomas. “What’s the point?”

Which is what made me think of our Calligraphy show and my original question about the thing: what’s the point?

But where Thomas was right, I was wrong, as I’ve since discovered. Chinese calligraphy often reproduces poems that already exist, but it’s not a craft as with Mr. Hudson’s handwriting. It’s something abstract and amazing, once you get it: each character is an image in itself, and each style unique to the calligrapher. Seeing Guernica for the first time, you might not know its name, but you’ll know it for a Picasso. (Speaking of which, guess who was mad into Chinese calligraphy? Yes, Picasso.)

A lot of the museum’s materials on Chinese calligraphy emphasize the rigorous discipline of the art. That of course is important and interesting to some, but whatever—just think about making each letter of a poem a masterpiece in itself, so that beautifully written takes on a double meaning. One final thing: you know what else is beautiful to look upon? Thomas of Upstairs Downstairs. Just sayin.

Xu Bing: The Character of Characters, coming soon

One of Xu Bing's sketches for The Character of Characters

One of Xu Bing’s sketches for The Character of Characters.

One of the most exciting things about Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy is without doubt the new work acclaimed Chinese artist Xu Bing is creating for the exhibition.

Xu Bing’s work is an animation, but as it is being created right now there’s not a whole lot more we can tell you about it yet. However, we did just receive some amazing stats from the artist.

Each day 14 people (including Xu Bing) are working on the project. They work 10 hours per day and have worked 35 days thus far; a total of 4900 person hours to date. Given that work will continue through September, they expect a further 5600 hours to be added to this number.

Xu Bing has drawn approximately 50 drafts and more than 1000 hand drawn sketches. There could be thousands more sketches by the end of the project.

Given all of that, we’re expecting something extraordinary. Don’t miss it.

 

Chinese Calligraphy: Beneath the Surface

Thousand Character Essay in Clerical Script, Wen Peng (1498-1573). China. Ink on paper. Courtesy Guanyuan Shanzhuang Collection. 2012.2.028_01

Thousand Character Essay in Clerical Script, Wen Peng (1498-1573). China. Ink on paper. Courtesy Guanyuan Shanzhuang Collection. 2012.2.028_01

Sometimes it seems like Chinese calligraphy is everywhere. From David Beckham to Din Tai Fung to Hero, calligraphy has found its way into popular culture in the West. But calligraphy isn’t just a design element to be used in decor and tattoos. And it’s not just writing. Calligraphy is China’s highest art form, and our next exhibition, Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy, will show you why.

We’ll have plenty to share as we approach opening day on October 5, but we want to start by showing you a video we created a few years back. Enjoy this taste of what calligraphy has to offer; we hope it whets your appetite for more.