Friday, March 09, 2007

Contemporary Calligraphy

Zhu Sanduo

Ever since Gawain got me connected to the National Palace website, I'm afraid I've been thinking about nothing except calligraphy -- and methodically perusing the scrolls in the current online exhibit, and cutting - pasting the details into my endless post

I've been laboring under the assumption that come March 25, the National Palace will change its exhibit -- both online and in Taipei -- and since their site does not link to the previous 84 exhibits that they've shown, all those nice, big pictures would be forever lost to me.

(This is obviously a compulsive - paranoid mind at work)


But as I sift through examples from the 11th Century ..
......where sometimes each and every character seems miraculous
.....I have begun to wonder just how contemporary examples would look to me now


and quite by chance... I stumbled across the Zhu Sanduo piece shown above

that's found in the collection of Cameron J. Campbell , an eccentric Scottish-Buddhist-Chicagoan who also specializes in genealogy, orchids, and cataloging religious texts.

O.K. -- who am I to call anyone an eccentric --but this learned aesthete really is marching to his own drummer --

and he's assembled a collection of contemporary Chinese (and Japanese) calligraphy and painting that I'm sure will surpass any other collection of contemporary art that the Art Institute of Chicago displays in coming decade.

Maybe that above piece feels a just a little too slick -- like a collection of modern Danish furniture -- but it certainly is beautiful -- which sets it apart from everything in the canonical world of contemporary art.

Which is not to say that Mr. Campell and I see eye-to-eye.

For example, he offers the following comparison in his Collector's Apologia :

Compare the two renditions of the same character above . Both are legible and communicate a meaning. However, the character on the right has vital and dynamic lines,while the one on the left seems stiff and wooden. The meaning is clear in both cases—the character 福 (fu2 good fortune, good luck). But the one on the right seems like a blessing, it bursts onto the eye forcefully, just as we might wish good luck to enter our lives powerfully. This serves as an example of how gesture—the very act of writing—can transform a character into art. A good piece of calligraphy is like a living, breathing body. It coordinates blood, flesh, muscle, bone and spirit into an organic whole. The contrast could not be plainer even if you do not know what the character means.

Regretfully -- I disagree.

The one on the left seems like a businessman in a nicely trimmed suit in a nice sunny office.

Nothing too exciting -- but far more attractive than the greasy, sloppy pizza chef to the right.

Well -- there we have it -- another example of differing tastes --
but what's remarkable to me is when I agree with anyone about anything --

--- and I do agree with our Scottish aesthete about the Zhu Sanduo -- and about the following:

Dong Shouping

It's free .. open... delicious
I think he belongs in the Sung Dynasty.

Maybe just a hair more slick than profound
(but maybe that's only because time hasn't yet darkened the paper)
This man was a five-star chef.


This fellow is maybe one-step slicker --
approaching what I'd expect to find in the window of a high-class boutique
.. but still it's beautiful-- balanced -- elegant -- well dressed
(just like the kind of lady who would have nothing to do with me)

Zhi Ren

This one's like the goofier examples of Sung -- "snakes hanging from trees" etc
-- which is, of course, the kind I like the most --

but I'm just feeling that this is a person trying to be whacky
-- rather than a person who actually is
--- and what could be more conventional ?

But still -- he is elegant -- he does feel that space,
he creates variety/optical delight
-- I'd love to hang it on my wall

Shu Tong

Yet again -- I'm both uncomfortable -- yet delighted

Uncomfortable because I seem to be visiting an antiseptic, luxury condo,
but I'm delighted because my host is so incredibly smart and sophisticated
(and if he were my herbalist -- I know I'd be paying him big dollars)

Jin Long

This fellow I'm much more comfortable with even if he is a little cutesy -- like the small, painted, toy figures that get shown at S.O.F.A.But look at how he spaces his page so the spaces are just as delicious as the little candies that inhabit them

Wu zhongqi

And now -- I'm just a step less enthusiastic,
because there is a difference between clumsy and daring
--and those four large characters are barely on the wrong side of that fearsome divide.

although you can see how he feels the whole page as he does each small character --
and if the large characters are clumsy -- they're only clumsy
because they're trying to be open- spontaneous- creative

Zhang Huiming

And here's another one that almost makes it --
but the big heavy stroke -- just ends up feeling big and heavy
The surrounding spaces don't quite redeem it.

But they come close.

And in a world full of bad intentions ....
some respect must be paid to good intentions
that have bad results

But now we've finally come to the ones I can't stand --
and their names have been withheld to protect the guilty.

I think I'd call the above:
"Disaster in the ballet class"

This is cutesy having a field day --
like a collection of temporary tatoos
for grade school children

It just doesn't work
But since it's so big and bold...
it's a disaster

This is the kind of cleverness that exhausts me ..
like a funny person who keeps on telling jokes
.. and my mouth gets tired from smiling

This is where the tradition of Chinese calligraphy
intersects with the world of academic, university, contemporary art

--- and each of those signifiers can be assembled into a grid of semiotic meaning
by the followers of Nelson Goodman.

This one's a confessional
that I don't want to hear

and this one is exhausting
in its sameness

There's such a important difference
between that which is almost a clutter, jumbled, mess
and that which is.

the conventionality
of being kooky

Alright -- enough already

But now I've discovered one more calligrapher -- who might even be my favorite

He calls himself "Wang Wei" (famous Tang dynasty poet)
-- so forget about finding anything else by him on the internet.

But his style is far more distinctive than his name -- it really feels quite different from the early masters -- and yet I think he's one of their peers.

He seems to exemplify the modern aesthete:

rootless -- free-falling in space -- but no less elegant and powerful -- and like most of the great visual artists of our time -- practically anonymous.


It takes a certain daring/confidence to collect an anonymous contemporary master.

So maybe C. J. Cameron and C.J. Miller aren't that far apart after all.


Blogger marlyat2 said...

Disaster in the ballet class!

So apt.

There's something very delicious about following you through your likes and dislikes on calligraphy--teetering toward understanding through your metaphors and comments.

March 10, 2007  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Very witty and richly-opined -- your post left me wishing for a languid afternoon with little snacks and cool beverages (it's 78 degrees F here today) where, face to face, I could disagree and digress with you, our most charming host in this salon.

Some of what you thought not worthy sang in my heart...and some of what you thought not worthy made me think, "Yeah, I see it that way too."

Chris, thanks ever so much. What a gift, to have a place to go where we can gather and muse about these ink-stained moments...

March 10, 2007  
Blogger Gawain said...

I, too, like the pizza on the right. I think the problem is the balance -- the businessman on the left seems to have stumbled and in the act of regaining his balance (none too well). Anyway, i have to come back to read (and stare at) the whole thing when I have packed for my trip. Thanks, Chris, you are a delight. (And a maniac, too. I love it).

March 10, 2007  

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