Alexandra Munroe, Ph.D. is an award-winning curator, Asia scholar, and author focusing on art, culture, and institutional global strategy. Currently the Samsung Senior Curator of Asian Art and Senior Advisor, Global Arts at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, she has led the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Initiative since its founding in 2006. Her 1994 project Japanese Art after 1945: Scream Against the Sky is recognized for initiating the field of postwar Japanese art history in the U.S. Called “catalytic” by Artforum, She is currently working on Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, opening at the Guggenheim in Fall 2017.
Muscles, Flesh, Bones, and Spirit: Can Ink Be Free?
Since the dawn of modernism, the calligraphic gesture and its universal medium, brush and ink, have inspired Asian artists to innovate within and Western artists to experiment outside their respective cultural codes. But recently, the terms of engagement have become allied with Asian identity discourses. This shift begs the question: Is ink just another medium at the disposal of the contemporary artist, or is it a closed cultural system tied to an essential national identity? And if it is, what are the implications for it ever translating into an international language like oil painting, video, or installation art? In Japan, a group of avant-garde artists, calligraphers, Zen theorists, and modernists wrestled with these questions in the immediate postwar period. This paper revisits how they sought to liberate the principles of ink and the calligraphic gesture from a strictly East Asian purpose to a practice of urgent relevance to international abstraction.