Distinct forms of Chinese art on exhibit in California

World Today

The U.S. West Coast experiences a special flavor of Chinese culture. It’s the fourth annual “Across The Pacific-China Arts Festival.”

The Chinese Consulate highlights performances by the Beijing Chinese Orchestra in Portland to Qingdao Chinese dancing in Las Vegas. And in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s art that takes center stage.

Mark Niu reports.

At Stanford University’s East Asia Library, the exhibit “Words in Characters: Books as Vehicles” brought in 57 works from artists from both China and the U.S. “What I like about this is that I think it’s a lot more aesthetically pleasing. If you did that kind of thing with the English letters it wouldn’t look nearly as beautiful or as delicate,” said Natasha Field, one of Stanford’s students.

Artist Susan Messer’s book had pages made of soap with the character for heaven inside. Artist Qing Liu took everyday materials, Chinese newspaper, hair and broken egg shells to allow viewers to come up with their own interpretation.

Across town at the University of California-Berkeley’s Art Museum, the focus was on one of 17th Century Imperial China’s most influential artists. Chen Hongshou lived a decadent lifestyle before turning to Buddhism for a short time, which is why he earned the name the Repentant Monk.

Several of his works have never been seen in the U.S. before. The works of Chen Hongshou being featured also come from outside of Asia. One of them came from Berkeley Art Museum’s very own collection. Another is from a museum in Zurich, along with a hand scroll that came from the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Curator Julia White pointed out one of her favorites. Because Chen primarily painted figures, the rare large-scale landscape shows his drive to pursue different artistic endeavors. “I think if people take the time to look carefully at the paintings. They are going to find a lot of Chinese history and a lot of Chinese artistic tradition within his paintings. Perhaps they will learn something about the times this artist lived in and take away a greater understanding of how an artist is affected through the turmoil that surrounds them,” detailed the senior curator.

It’s also extremely rare for a Chinese painting exhibit to focus on just one artist. That mold was being broken here in hopes of exploring deeper the mind and talents of a master painter.