Traditional Contemporary Chinese Art Since 1993
Elizabeth Wang Gallery



        王方宇   Wang Fangyu (1913–1997)




In looking at the calligraphy of Wang Fangyu it may be useful to bear in mind several tenets of traditional Chinese thought:

1)  Calligraphy and painting have the same origin in the earliest writing of China, which was often pictorial and gestural in form.

2)  Calligraphy is an unmistakable image or aura of the writer, as clear a reflection as his words, his appearance or his public actions.


3)  The forms and gestures of calligraphy are often understood to be in harmony with the natural forms and forces of the world, for example, the wind, the rain, the flight of the birds.

4)  All of the calligraphy of the past – the graphic record of human consciousness – is a vital repository of sources and references.


The art of calligraphy is the most vivid and direct recording of a creative process among all of the arts of the world.  Every stroke and dot is an instant image of a physical action embodying aesthetic and expressive impulses.  It is also the oldest and – measured by number of artists and works – the densest historical body of art extant, rivaled perhaps only by poetry.

These facts make all the more remarkable and exciting the achievement of Mr. Wang.  Forbidding indeed is the challenge of the past for any calligrapher living in the late twentieth century.  To master and change a tradition so dense, brilliant, and ineffable is a goal few have been able to approach, through there has been no dearth of aspirants.  Indeed, it appears that we are in the midst of a true revival of the ancient art of calligraphy, one that will ultimately clarify itself into a major historical era in the evolution of the art.  Why, in a age seemingly preoccupied with the problems of the present and the future, should there be this resurgence of interest in the most ancient of the arts of Asia?  The other traditional arts, notably poetry, painting, and drama, have been buffeted by the cataclysmic events of our time.  Calligraphy alone has remained relatively unaffected, quietly continuing to write out its story.

The answer, I believe, lies in the probability that calligraphy is the tangible embodiment of the racial and cultural memory of the Chinese people.  Its origins lie in the fire of the oracle of Shang; its history draws into its structure the thought and emotion of the countless individuals – artists, scholars, monks, priests, and warriors – whose lives are the history of China; and it exists today as the embodiment of a nation’s mind and memory.


No one understands this better than Wang Fangyu.  In his art is the past and the present, the individual mind and the mind of a people. His perception of experience is the subject of his art, and the history of the art is the space through which his brush writes.  Looking at Mr. Wang’s images of himself, of his world, and his experience is to see one artist reflecting upon his life, his language, his art, and his history – reflecting upon roots sunk into primeval soil, and upon a heritage he himself is continuing to define.


Richard Barnhart
Professor of Art History
Yale University




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Elizabeth Wang Gallery
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Online Exhibition:


Wang Fangyu - The Art of the Calligraphy

Wang Fangyu held his last one-man show:"Spirit and Form" in 1997 at the Eliazbeth Wang Gallery.  As a Professor, Wang Fangyu often gave lectures on Chinese art to students from  Columbia University at the Gallery.

ART REVIEW; Not Penmanship, Cultural Treasure 

The New York Times, June 4, 1999

Chinese art has enjoyed V.I.P status in New York in the past few years. The Met opened its ultra-deluxe new Chinese galleries. The Guggenheim's ''China: 5,000 Years'' exhibition and Asia's Society's recent showcase of contemporary work, ''Inside Out,'' were high-profile events.


''A Literati Life in the 20th Century: Wang Fangyu, Artist, Scholar, Connoisseur,'' at the China Institute, is devoted to the eminent modern calligrapher Wang Fangyu (1913-1997). Organized by the scholar Christopher Luce, the exhibition underscores the role of the artist as custodian of the past. (Wang rediscovered and promoted the work of earlier painters.) And it addresses the issue of forgery, an ever-present concern among collectors and scholars of Chinese art.  More...



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