Wang Dongling (Chinese, born 1945) is a leading artist and calligrapher best known for large abstract works that he calls “calligraphic paintings.” Combining poetry and painting, Dongling creates these works through performances in which he translates the text of ancient Chinese verses into gestural interpretations of traditional characters. Defining his work as “abstract ink art,” he creates spaces for considering the inherent creativity of Chinese writing. By employing techniques of performance and relying on the impact of scale, Dongling brings a new freedom to the rigorous art of calligraphy and offers contemporary homage to an ancient practice.
Five of the artist’s Plexiglas panels come together for this installation at the Art Institute. For the basis of these works, produced during a 2017 performance, Dongling selected well-known poems from the 8th through the 16th centuries. Unmooring the texts from the traditional black-on-white realm of calligraphy, he abstracted them almost beyond comprehension. The characters are rendered in bright acrylic on seven-foot translucent panels and appear to float on the surface, mirroring the poems’ content and shaping a spatial experience that heightens their linguistic and auditory effect.
Dongling is professor of calligraphy and director of the Modern Calligraphy Research Center at the China Academy of Art, Hangzhou. His works are represented in the collections of museums around the world including the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Art Museum of China, the Palace Museum (Taipei), and the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum; Harvard University Art Museums; the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University; and Yale University Art Gallery.