The Art of Calligraphy

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's current special exhibition "Brush and Ink: The Chinese Art of Writing" (September 2, 2006–January 21, 2007).

It's interesting to take time out to appreciate the art of writing. Is this something that is lost in today's typeset computer-driven culture? True, there are interesting typographical fonts and some designers use them artistically, but what about the art of handwriting? Is it lost today?

I spent a lot of time as a child thinking about the way my handwriting looks--I wanted to make it unique and beautiful. Though it's a bit messy (due to disuse and being left-handed), I believe there are still little artistic flourishes in it (or is it just entirely sloppy?). Do children still think about this, or is it a dying art?

Is the same issue true in Asia? Undoubtedly. But it seems that it would be different, somehow, because of the pictographic elements of the characters, which lend themselves to artistic enterpretations far more intricate than the Western alphabet.

Though the exhibit at the Met spans centuries (and as the same type of show about Western writing would be inherently similar), it's still important to take time and think about language and how it is represented. It can be extremely basic, or so beautiful that it conveys much more than the words themselves.

Towards the end of the show, there are pieces by the contemporary artist Xu Bing, whose work is extraordinarily interesting in the context of the Met's show. He has developed a way to arrange western letters so the words look like pitctograms, and at first glance, to someone who can't read Chinese, it looks like yet another scroll in a slightly different style. But upon closer examination (and reading the key), an wonderful world opens up--a magical, beautiful new way to read and represent the English language.


Quiet Places I Probably Shouldn't Mention: The Garden at St. Luke's

(Barrow & Hudson Streets) A quiet sanctuary (behind a sanctuary) in the midst of the West Village, and a great spot to read or take a break from the hubub of the city.

Built behind the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, which dates to 1821, the first verifiable planting was in 1842 (a Glastonbury thorn, which blew over in 1990, though cuttings live on in other parts of the garden).

Gallery Hopping 9.9

With the end of summer comes the beginning of the new gallery season, and my first pass (after Thursday’s insanely crowded evening of openings, which was unusable as far as actually seeing art goes), offered some worthwhile things, some shows worth checking out, and one particularly wonderful show.

Jennifer Dalton’s “Would You Rather Be a Loser or a Pig?” (Winkelman/Plus Ultra Gallery, 637 W. 27th St.), is a fascinating installation that deals with the plight of artists in today’s society—particularly women. The pieces turn studies into art: a slideshow that shows the results of an internet study about how artists live and survive; a look at two months of the “Chelsea Art Guide” that highlights the disparity of men vs. women that have solo shows (there are more men than women, at a ratio of almost 2:1); and an installation that highlights the number of women graduating from art schools (more than half) vs. number of success stories (much lower).

The highlight of the afternoon was Vik Muniz’s “Pictures of Junk” at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. (530 W. 22nd St.). Muniz uses of cast-off items that all look like what you’d traditionally find in a junkyard (such as tires, telephones, bits of machinery, an old army jeep, and even a rocket), and arranges them in an area about the size of a basketball field to be photographed. Muniz captures the dichotomy between “waste” and beauty, creating almost unbelievable recreations of famous mythological paintings. In this age of Photoshop, it’s wonderful to see something so creatively real.

Also worth checking out:

Sonamu by BAE Bien-U at Galerie Poller (547 W. 27th St., 2nd Fl.)

Walter Niedermayr at Robert Miller Gallery (524 W. 26th St.)

Andrea Robbins & Max Becher: “Brooklyn Abroad” at Sonnabend (536 W. 22nd St.)

Nathan Lyons: “Trilogy” at Silverstein Photography (535 W. 24th St.)

Alessandra Exposito at Mixed Greens Gallery (531 W. 26nd St.)