USC Pacific Asia Museum

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46 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
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USC Pacific Asia Museum

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Drawing the Line:
Contemporary Artists Reassess
Traditional East Asian Calligraphy

June 1 – October 5, 2003

View the Exhibition Brochure [PDF: 2.5MB]

Lighthouse 3

Sun Wuk Kim. Lighthouse 3

“Thought-provoking,” “great,” “fabulous,” “amazing,” “the best show I have ever seen here!” These are some of the comments from visitors to the exhibition Drawing the Line: Contemporary Artists Reassess Traditional East Asian Calligraphy, which runs through October 5th, 2003. This ground-breaking exhibition, guest curated by eminent art scholar and critic Collette Chattopadhyay, profiles works created by thirteen Asian and Asian American artists: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Wenda Gu, Hanong Sun Wuk Kim, Takenobu Igarashi, So Moon Kim, Linda Nishio, Qin Feng, Song Gang, Kazuaki Tanahashi, Wang Nanming, Jane Park Wells, Flo Oy Wong, and Xu Bing. Dating from the 1960s through 2002, their works, in various ways, reassess traditional East Asian calligraphy.

Ranging from examples of contemporary calligraphy, created using traditional Chinese characters, to invented scripts that resemble Chinese writing, and from calligraphic sculptures to conceptual video installations, the exhibition provides works that appeal to a wide audience. A computer at the end of the exhibition enables visitors to print out their names in a pseudo-Chinese script invented by Chinese artist Xu Bing. One comment in the visitor’s book, “I don’t generally like modern art but this is pretty cool,” is a typical reaction of many visitors.

Calligraphic sculpture in wood,
Calligraphic sculpture in wood,
Takenobu Igarashi

The exhibition is arranged in three sections that reflect three basic responses to traditional calligraphy: calligraphy renewed, calligraphy reinvented, and calligraphy deconstructed.

Section One: Calligraphy Renewed highlights works that converse with traditional calligraphy, yet depart from its canon by their methods, material, and/or scale. Korean American artist Hanong Sun Wuk Kim, for example, creates fresh interpretations of ancient Chinese scripts, using unconventional colors and formats, and often layering different scripts.

Section Two: Calligraphy Reinvented showcases works that transform calligraphy into visual puzzles or games. Wenda Gu’s monumental invented Chinese characters challenge ancient Chinese traditions as well as modern Communist values, and his works in human hair pose questions about the possibility of intercultural harmony.

Section Three: Calligraphy Deconstructed contains works focusing either on traditional calligraphy’s form or gesture. The “New English Calligraphy” works of Chinese-born, New York-based Xu Bing present English words in a script resembling Chinese square calligraphy. Qin Feng’s balls of crumpled calligraphic writing suggest the precarious role of calligraphy in the modern, high-tech world. Almost in response to his works, one of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s works eschews brush and paper altogether, layering poetry, imagery and metaphysical concepts often present in calligraphy on three DVD screens.

Joyful Noise (Red) 1997.
Jane Park Wells.
Joyful Noise (Red) 1997.
Mixed media on wood. 77” x 61.5”.

Trekking across conceptual lines that conventionally distinguish between East and West, the traditional and contemporary, sacred and profane, these artists raise issues critical to our time. Layering worlds, words, languages, histories, and philosophies, the exhibited works allude to the disillusionments and dreams of cross-cultural communication and understanding.

For more information about this exhibition, call 626.449.2642, ext. 19.

Related Events:

  • Chinese Calligraphy Showcase
    Award Ceremony: Saturday, May 24, 2003 in the Museum Auditorium and Courtyard
    The Awards ceremony is by invitation only.
    Exhibition: June 4 through October 5, 2003 in the Museum Foyer Gallery
  • Calligraphy/Family Festival Day
    Saturday, July 19, 1-4pm
    The art of calligraphy will be celebrated and tours of Drawing the Line will be offered. Calligraphy and haiku poetry-writing workshops and refreshments are included. Free.
  • Calligraphy/Graffiti Exchange Workshop
    Friday, August 29, 5-9:30pm
    This workshop will bring together Xu Bing (artist exhibited in Drawing the Line) with L. A. based graffiti artists in a workshop. By application only. Maximum of 15 people. Sponsored by the Pasadena Art Alliance. Free.
  • Korean Calligraphy Workshop
    Sunday, September 7, 3-6pm
    Noted calligrapher, Dr. Sun Wuk Kim will lead a workshop on the art of Korean calligraphy using slide and video presentations, and hands-on practice. Participants must supply their own ink and brushes. Paper will be provided. Reservations are required, ext. 40. Free with Museum admission. Sponsored by the Pasadena Art Alliance.