Huntington Library opens “A Garden of Words,” inaugural exhibition at new art gallery in the Chinese Garden

A Garden of Words: The Calligraphy of Liu Fang Yuan. Installation view at The Huntington Library. (Cultural News Photo)

A Garden of Words: The Calligraphy of Liu Fang Yuan

Aug. 28, 2021–May 16, 2022

Chinese Garden, Studio for Lodging the Mind
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden

Part 1: Aug. 28–Dec. 13, 2021
Part 2: Jan. 29–May 16, 2022

Celebrating the recent opening of the final phase of its Chinese Garden, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Garden presents an exhibition of contemporary Chinese calligraphy as the inaugural installation in the garden’s new art gallery, the Studio for Lodging the Mind.

The exhibition, designed to illuminate the art form and foster deeper appreciation of its expressive qualities, is presented in two 16-week rotations of 20 works each.

The work of 21 contemporary ink artists is featured, including Bai Qianshen, Michael Cherney, Grace Chu, Fu Shen, Lo Ch’ing, Tang Qingnian, Wang Mansheng, Wan-go Weng, Zhu Chengjun, and Terry Yuan, among others.

The works on view comprise the original calligraphic scrolls that served as the models for inscriptions throughout the garden. 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.

“Chinese calligraphy is an art of seeming contradictions,” explained 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. “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. Through this exhibition, we hope to help make it more accessible and to make a significant contribution to public engagement with the art form.”

“A Garden of Words” offers 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.

The second section of the exhibition focuses 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 is displayed, and a pair of calligraphic works illustrate the different effects that can be achieved by varying materials.

Next, visitors will explore the diverse visual forms of calligraphy through the five conventional script types: seal (Tensho), clerical (Reisho), regular (Kaisho), running (gyousho), and cursive (Sosho).  Each has its own visual features, cultural connotations, and appropriate contexts of use.

For instance, regular script (Kiasho) would traditionally be used for formal inscriptions on imposing buildings, such as governmental or religious sites, while cursive (Sosho) is often associated with freer forms of expression. Two or three works of each type demonstrate the range of visual effects that can be achieved within a single script. An accompanying video in the gallery will show a calligrapher at work, capturing the subtle movements of both body and brush.

The exhibition concludes 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 sheds light on their creative processes.

A gallery guide, in English and in Chinese, is available, and an exhibition webpage provides additional resources, including an interactive map of calligraphy locations within the garden, with translations of the inscriptions and information on the artists.

The new Studio for Lodging the Mind, located at the north end of the garden, is a 1,720-sq.-ft., light- and climate-controlled gallery space suitable for the display of works of art on paper or silk. An adjacent pavilion, known as the Flowery Brush Library, is designed in the style of a 17th-century 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. Calligraphy demonstrations are planned for this latter space; including a presentation by Terry Yuan on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at 2:30 p.m., and a demonstration by Tang Qingnian on Saturday, April 9, 2022, at 2:30 p.m. Both programs are free with Huntington admission.

Support for this exhibition is provided by the Grace and Li Yu Family Foundation and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA, 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

Visitor information: or 626-405-2100. (Check for updates during this period for new visitation protocols due to COVID-19.)