Mythos of Lost Dynasties Series—I Evaluate Characters Written by Three Men and Three Women

Gu Wenda (Chinese, born 1955)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Image: 9 ft. 4 1/4 in. × 70 1/16 in. (285.1 × 178 cm)
Credit Line:
Lent by a private collection, Hong Kong
Rights and Reproduction:
© Gu Wenda
Not on view
In this important early experimental work, Gu problematizes the written word by inviting six of his students at the Zhejiang Academy (where he taught from 1981 to 1987) to each write on a sheet of paper a large-scale variation of the character “quiet” (jing 静). No two characters are written the same way: some resemble early seal script, while others are deliberately miswritten. Gu then added spatters of ink to the characters before using red pigment either to cross out the characters with an “X” or to indicate approval with a circle. Such marks were a traditional way for teachers to indicate whether a character had been written correctly, but they also were a powerful reminder of the Cultural Revolution when, in Gu’s words, “You cross out the bad person, and leave the good person.” Here, Gu has kept his evaluation standards ambiguous, calling into question the validity of any cultural or political value system.
Acquired in Hong Kong in 2006 by the current owner, a private collector in Hong Kong, directly from the artist's ex-wife, Guo Zhen.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China," December 9, 2013–April 6, 2014.