Power of the Word

POWER OF THE WORD, an exhibition that explores the significance of the written word in contemporary Chinese art, is on display at the Emerson Gallery at Hamilton College, through Friday, March 30.  Comprising 59 works in a variety of mediums-painting, drawing, video, photography, graffiti, and printmaking-the exhibition highlights nine contemporary Chinese artists who both celebrate and critique the conventions associated with writing and calligraphy in Chinese culture.

The exhibition is organized by Independent Curators International, New York, and curated by Chang Tsong-zung.  It was shown initially at the Taiwan Museum of Art, Taichung, Taiwan, in spring 1999, and comes to Hamilton from the Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.  Additional venues will be announced.

 In China, historically, the fine arts sanctioned by scholar-artists (painting, calligraphy, seal carving) maintained an intimate relationship with the art of the word.  Indeed, the writing of pictographic words, or calligraphy, was always considered a supreme art form.  This unique perspective on the practice of writing and text provides rich materials for rethinking the relationship between concept and image in contemporary art.  POWER OF THE WORD departs from traditional Chinese calligraphic art to examine contemporary experimental works that embrace the wider issue of China's culture of the word.

 The artists featured in the exhibition represent an extensive range of mediums and artistic backgrounds, from politician to academy-trained artist, from computer programmer to self-trained "outsider."  The exhibition does not assume that the audience has prior knowledge of Chinese language or calligraphy.  Among the artists are Fung Ming-chip (Hong Kong/New York), Gu Wenda (Shanghai/New York), Qiu Zi-jie (Xiamen), Wu Shan-zhuan (Shanghai/Frankfurt), and Xu Bing (Beijing).  The exhibition also includes the work of two "outsider" artists whose paintings demonstrate the power of Chinese words to shape the way illiterate-or minimally literate-people visualize the world: Hung Tung (Taiwan) and Tsang Tsou-choi/King (Kowloon, Hong Kong). In addition, facsimile examples of the calligraphy of Mao Zedong (Hunan/Beijing), considered one of the most influential and accomplished calligraphers of his time, are presented, as is work by Wang Yong-ming, the inventor of the most successful computer-input system of Chinese characters.

 The contemporary permutations of calligraphy presented in POWER OF THE WORD reflect a fresh understanding of the relationship between language and art, often stimulated by interaction with Western culture.  Some of the works interpret the art of the calligraphic word in terms of its visual impact; others illuminate the use of the written word as pictorial art; while still others reflect on Chinese calligraphic tradition from the perspective of foreign cultures, where the meaning of Chinese writing becomes invalid or relative.  Some artists introduce an element of absurdity and formal anti-narrative within calligraphic art by undoing the pretense of "meaning" through misprinted, wrongly written, or invented word forms.  Still others explore the written word with regard to its function as a pronouncement of power, often in an absurdist and humorous way.

 Chang Tsong-zung is an art critic and scholar living in Hong Kong.  His exhibitions on contemporary Chinese and Taiwanese art have been presented at the Kunstmuseum, Bonn; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; the Shanghai Museum of Modern Art; the National Gallery, Beijing; the São Paulo Bienal, and the Venice Biennale, among many other institutions.
 POWER OF THE WORD has been made possible, in part, by grants from the Foundation-To-Life, Inc. and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Independent Curators International
 For twenty-five years, the nonprofit Independent Curators International (ICI) has sought to enhance the understanding and appreciation of contemporary art.  ICI makes this art accessible to the broadest possible public, providing diverse audiences around the globe-many of them not regularly exposed to contemporary art-with innovative, challenging exhibitions. Collaborating with a wide range of distinguished curators to offer exhibitions and catalogues that introduce and document works in all mediums, by both emerging and established artists from around the world, ICI is a leader in its field.  Since its founding, ICI exhibitions have been seen by over 5 million people.

The Emerson Gallery is located on the campus of Hamilton College, in Christian Johnson Hall, directly behind the college chapel.  Gallery hours are weekdays, 10 am -5 pm, weekends, 1- 5 pm, during scheduled exhibitions.  For further information, including information on parking and wheelchair accessibility, please contact the Emerson Gallery at 315 859-4396. Admission to both the exhibition and special programs is free, and the public is cordially invited to attend.

Pictured: Hung, Tung
Butterfly God, c. 1976
Ink and gouache on paper
Courtesy of ICI


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