SAN MARINO, Calif.—Timed to coincide with the grand opening in May 2020 of the final phase of its Chinese Garden, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens will present an exhibition of Chinese calligraphy as the inaugural installation in the garden's new art gallery. "A Garden of Words: The Calligraphy of Liu Fang Yuan" 書苑——流芳園所藏書法作品 opens May 30, 2020, in the Studio for Lodging the Mind 寓意齋. The exhibition will be presented in two 16-week rotations of 20 works each. The first installation continues through Sept. 7, 2020, and the second runs from Sept. 12, 2020, through Jan. 4, 2021.
The exhibition will take place during The Huntington’s yearlong Centennial Celebration, which gets underway this fall. The expansion of the Chinese Garden is one of the keystone Centennial projects.
Among the key elements of the Chinese Garden are graceful inscriptions of Chinese calligraphy, located throughout the landscape. Mounted on placards or carved into rock, they convey poetic names for the garden’s various features or bear evocative couplets inspired by particular spaces. Their purpose is to enhance the visitor’s experience of the garden through the lenses of literature and art. “Calligraphy is fundamental to a Chinese garden, but it’s a subtle feature that may often go overlooked,” said Phillip E. Bloom, the June and Simon K.C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies. “This exhibition fosters deeper appreciation for the expressive artistry behind these inscriptions by introducing visitors to the content, materials, forms, and futures of the calligraphic art form.”
The work of 21 contemporary ink artists will be featured, including Qianshen Bai, Michael Cherney, Fu Shen, Lo Ch’ing, Lui Tai, Tang Qingnian, Wang Mansheng, Wan-go Weng, and Terry Yuan.
The new Studio for Lodging the Mind, located at the north end of Liu Fang Yuan (the Garden of Flowing Fragrance), is a 1,720-sq.-ft., light- and climate-controlled gallery space suitable for the display of works of art on paper or silk—including the original calligraphic scrolls on paper that served as the models for the garden’s inscriptions. To complement the show, a series of calligraphy demonstrations by featured artists will be offered during the run of the exhibition inside an adjacent structure known as the Flowery Brush Library 筆花書房. This pavilion, which will be making its debut as well, is designed in the style of a Chinese scholar’s studio—a garden retreat traditionally used for painting, poetry, and calligraphy. Its name is inspired by the tale of a scholar who dreamed that a flower grew from the tip of his writing brush, a metaphor for literary and artistic talent.
“Chinese calligraphy is an art of seeming contradictions,” said Bloom. “Though crafted with simple materials—brush, ink, and paper—its visual forms are myriad. Though written according to rigid rules, it also encourages sophisticated forms of personal expression. And while it is ubiquitous in the Chinese-reading world, calligraphy nevertheless can remain difficult even for the erudite to appreciate. We hope, through this exhibition, to help make it more accessible and to make a significant contribution to public engagement with the art form.”
“A Garden of Words” will offer four perspectives through which to consider calligraphy: its content, materials, forms, and futures. Visitors will first investigate the ways in which the content of calligraphy—its written characters—conveys meaning and sound by following specific structural rules. A single, easily interpretable calligraphic inscription will serve as an example. The work will be complemented with graphic panels that clarify those rules and that show how characters convey both their meaning and their pronunciation.
The second section of the exhibition will focus on calligraphy as a material object, with an inscription introducing the format of a calligraphic work—its mounting, main text, and framing inscriptions. A selection of the tools of calligraphy will be displayed, and a pair of calligraphic works will illustrate the different effects that can be achieved by varying materials. Samples of paper and brushes that visitors can touch and handle will be available in the nearby Flowery Brush Library.
Next, visitors will explore the diverse visual forms of calligraphy through the five conventional script types: seal, clerical, regular, running, and cursive. Each has its own visual features, cultural connotations, and appropriate contexts of use. For instance, regular script would traditionally be used for formal inscriptions on imposing buildings, such as governmental or religious sites, while cursive is often associated with freer forms of expression. Two or three works of each type will demonstrate the range of visual effects that can be achieved within a single script. An accompanying video will show a calligrapher at work, capturing the subtle movements of both body and brush.
The exhibition will conclude with a look at the innovations contemporary calligraphers are bringing to the medium. Some artists take a pictographic approach, returning writing to its mythic origins; others excavate forgotten scripts to imbue their work with eccentricity. A short video of interviews with artists discussing their work will shed light on their creative processes. The exhibition will also feature extended object labels in binders throughout the gallery, and an exhibition website will make the didactic material available to educators for ongoing use.
“We hope this exhibition will inspire a deeper appreciation among visitors for our garden and for the compelling complexity of calligraphy more generally,” said Bloom.
Support for this exhibition is provided by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
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About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. In 2008, The Huntington established its Chinese Garden, Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園, The Garden of Flowing Fragrance, which is one of the largest and most authentic classical-style gardens outside of China. Enthusiastically supported by the local community, the garden has quickly become a nexus for cross-cultural exchange. Through its Center for East Asian Garden Studies, The Huntington uses the Chinese Garden as the focal point for a wide variety of lectures, symposia, exhibitions, and performances that help promote a deeper understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture. More information about The Huntington can be found online at huntington.org
The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif., 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. It is open to the public Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. Information: 626-405-2100 or huntington.org.