The main thing is for an artist to have Naiveté. Being naiveté doesn’t mean being ignorant, and it doesn’t mean being incapable. Naiveté means natural. If you have the quality of being natural, that’s literati painting.


— C.C. Wang (Chi-ch'ien Wang)

C. C. Wang (Chi-ch’ien Wang, 1907-2003) was a Chinese calligrapher, painter, connoisseur, collector, and dealer whose international career spanned more than 50 years. His connoisseurship laid the groundwork for studying Chinese painting in the West. Wang's paintings and calligraphy works chart the maturation of a traditional literati artist whose personal style was by his 1949 emigration to America, a half-century living and working in New York, and his direct exposure to significant twentieth-century art movements, from Abstract Expressionism, and Minimalism, to Graffiti and Street Art. 


Wang numbers among the last generation of scholars to receive a traditional literati education. Born into a distinguished family of scholar-officials in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, Wang's family traces their ancestry back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and includes the Ming Dynasty calligrapher, writer, and statesman Wang Ao 王鳌 (1450-1524). Wang practiced calligraphy as a child and later studied landscape painting under Gu Linshi 顾麟士(1865-1930) and Wu Hufan 吴湖帆 (1894-1968). Wang's desire for a western-style education eventually led him to gain a law degree from Shanghai's prestigious Suzhou University. But it was his enduring concern with art and connoisseurship that guided his future.


While studying law, Wang taught art at the Shanghai School of Fine Arts (Shanghai meishu zhuanke xuexiao 上海美術專科學校) under the supervision of Principal Liu Haisu 刘海粟 (1896-1994), a reformer who was passionate about incorporating Western techniques and methods into Chinese art. Wang's long-time mentor, Wu Hufan吴湖帆 (1894-1968), recommended the young graduate to serve as an executive committee painting selector and advisor for the ground-breaking "International Exhibition of Chinese Art." The exhibition, held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London between 1935 and 1936,  marked the first time the Palace Museum showed many of China's national treasures abroad. At the level of realpolitik, the exhibition created a precedent for cultural-relic diplomacy. It also introduced the western public to a wealth of never before seen Chinese art and kindled new interest in Chinese aesthetics and art-historical studies. 


Wang's acquaintance with fellow exhibition committee member and German scholar Victoria Contag (1906-1973, Chinese name Kong Da 孔達) proved particularly fruitful. Wang and Contag performed a comprehensive study of artists' seals to facilitate Chinese painting authentications. Their thousands of photos of seals resulted in the 1940 publication Seals of Chinese Painters and Collectors of the Ming and Ch'ing Periods: it remains a useful resource even today. By the mid-1940s, Wang began showing his paintings in a shared public gallery, and between 1944 and 1946 he formally collaborated with colleagues Xu Bangda 徐邦达 and Ying Yeping 應野平 (1910-1990) through the art group "Lüyi huashe 綠漪畫社." 


During this period, public exhibitions of Asian masterworks were rare. To view original paintings, a vital element of the literati maturation process, artists sought access to private collections. With this goal in mind, and a parallel desire to view works by Matisse and Picasso, Wang embarked on a 1947-1948 trip to Japan and the United States. While in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hired him to assess a significant new acquisition of Chinese paintings. Although many of the works turned out to be forgeries, the experience cemented Wang's reputation as an authentication expert. It also opened the door to a life-long relationship with the Metropolitan.


In 1949, Wang joined the diaspora emigrating from the newly established People's Republic of China, relocating to New York City. During his early years in America, Wang continued painting and showing landscapes, receiving critical praise for his work from James Cahill, among others. But, finding little public interest in his traditional-style landscapes and following his ongoing exploration of Western aesthetics, Wang began experimenting with novel materials and techniques. Between 1950 and 1974, he attended classes at the Art Students League of New York, whose roster of students included the abstract artists Knox Martin (b. 1923), Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), and Cy Twombly (1928-2011). While Wang's appreciation for abstraction was slow to blossom, he began adapting Western techniques and methods to his work. Borrowing from Post-Impressionist Pointillism, the artist experimented with a variation on the "splashed ink" technique by crumpling papers into balls and dipping their projecting angles into ink. He converted the resulting lines, blots, and patterns into landscapes by adding traditional elements such as trees, houses, or rocks in ink or color and adding tonal washes to suggest variations in light or clouds. These experiments morphed into explorations of chance effects created by pre-treating paper – for example, stamping paper with wooden planks to form a wood grain pattern. 


By the late 1980s, Wang began to embrace entirely new modes of expression, breaking calligraphy's traditional readability as a literary text and creating a provocative series of abstract calligraphic images. He also began using a range of writing implements, such as felt markers, flat-bristle brushes, and sponge painting brushes, against various surfaces. His colors became free and bold, and he reconfigured the structure and composition of Chinese characters through random and improvisational actions. The result is a new expressive form that oscillates between the boundaries of painting and calligraphy. Finally untethered from millennia of literati tradition, Wang's abstracted characters bounce, like musical notes, across colored construction paper, wood planks, newsletters, even New York City telephone books. Intuitive and direct, these late works integrate eastern and western aesthetics and traditional and modern practices and mark Wang's transformation from a classical Chinese landscape painter to an international contemporary artist, in tune with the 1980s and 1990s artistic currents.


C. C. Wang's work is held internationally, in public museums and universities, and private collections. Beyond his work as an artist, Wang figures among the most respected, twentieth-century connoisseurs, collectors, and dealers of classical Chinese calligraphy and painting. In 1957, he co-founded the Department of Art at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (then New Asia College 新亚书院). He became the Art Department Chair in 1962 and spent many years working between Hong Kong and New York. Wang built a comprehensive private collection of Ni Zan's 倪瓒 (1301 – 1374) works, along with select pieces by Dong Yuan 董源 (Active 930s–960s), Wu Zongyuan 武宗元 (980-1050), and Zhao Mengfu 赵孟頫 (1254-1322). Influenced by his early struggle to view masterworks, he opened his collection to scholars and students and taught connoisseurship in museums and universities in the United States and abroad. From the 1970s to the present, the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired 78 works from Wang's collection. To honor his outstanding contributions to the field of Chinese art, the museum established the C. C. Wang Family Gallery.




1962 Served as chairman of the Art Department, Chinese University of 
  Hong Kong, and taught Chinese painting at the same university.
1957 Taught painting at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
1940 Co-authored, with Victoria Contag, Seals of Chinese Painters and 
  Collectors of the Ming and Ch’ ing Periods (The Commercial Press, 
  Shanghai, 1940; Revised Edition with Supplement, Hong Kong 
  University Press, 1966) Taught Chinese painting at the Shanghai 
  and Suzhou Art Academies
1935 Served as member of the committee to select works lent by the 
  Beijing Palace Museum Collection the International Exhibition of 
  Chinese Arts, Burlington House, London, England
  Studied painting with Wu Hufan, while simultaneously studying law 
  in the evening at Soochow University Law School in Shanghai
1924 Studied under Suzhou painter Gu Linshi


Solo Exhibition


1994 Solo exhibition, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan; National Tsing Hua University Art Center, 
  Hsin-chu, Tainwan, China
  Solo exhibition, Pristine Harmony Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan, China
  C. C. Wang: Landscapes and Calligraphic Images, Plum Blossoms Gallery, Hong Kong and Singapore
1992 Solo exhibition of calligraphy, L. J. Wender Gallery, New York, USA
1991 Shenyang Museum, Shenyang, Liaoining, China
  Solo exhibition, Hong Kong, China
  Solo exhibition of calligraphy, Gallery 456, New York, USA
1988 Mind Landscapes: The Paintings of C. C. Wang, the Spencer 
  Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA; the Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco, California, USA; the China Institute in America, New York, USA
1987 Solo exhibition, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama, USA
1986 Solo exhibition, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong, China
1983 Solo exhibition, National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan, China
1982 Solo exhibition, Hugh Moss Gallery, London, England
1977 The Landscapes of C. C. Wang: Mountains of the Mind, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, USA
1976 Solo exhibition, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois; Chinese Culture Foundation, San Francisco, California, USA
1975 Solo exhibition, Columbia University, New York, USA
1973 Solo exhibition, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; The New Gallery, Schacht 
  Fine Arts Center, Russell Sage College, Troy, New York, USA; 
  Chinese Culture Center, New York; New Paltz State University, New Paltz, New York, USA
1972 Solo exhibition, China Institute in America, New York; Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; Indianapolis Museum 
  of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
1968 Solo exhibition, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, California, USA
1950 First solo exhibition, Warren E. Cox Gallery, New York, USA


Group Exhibition


1994 Not Knowing: Affinities in Eastern and Western Art, Gallery Schlesinger, New York, USA
1989 Six Twentieth Century Chinese Artists, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, USA
1986 The Mountain Retreat: Landscape in Modern Chinese Painting, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, Colorado, and Emily Lowe Gallery, 
  Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York, USA
1981 Paintings and Calligraphy by Wu Hufan and His Students, Shanghai, China
1971 Retrospective exhibition, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, USA
  Chinese Painting at Mid-Century, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
1966 The New Chinese Landscape: Six Contemporary Chinese Artists, the Unite States under the auspices of the American 
  Federation of Arts, New York, USA

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