The descendants of late artist Lo Chia-Lun donated a Chinese calligraphy collection valued at over $12 million to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in January 2022, making it the largest art donation in the museum’s history.
The collection is composed of works created by colleagues of Lo Chia-Lun, a leader of China’s May Fourth Movement — an anti-imperialist movement that started after student protests in Beijing in May 1919 — including Cai Yuanpei, Chen Duxiu and Shen Yinmo. Works by other artists and cultural figures such as Xu Beihong and Zhang Daqian are also included in the collection. The collection includes a total of 72 pieces, with art from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, spanning from the years 1271 to 1911.
Assistant professor of Chinese arts and cultures Lihong Liu explained in an email to The Michigan Daily the significance of calligraphy in Chinese culture throughout history. The art form can be traced back to the Eastern Han period — 25-220 C.E. — when people began to create treatises on calligraphy.
“It was this time the so-called ‘cursive script’ (caoshu) became popular, marking a highly personal expression in calligraphy, with an unimpeded flow of energy across the linear movement instigated not only by the body, but also by an inner urge,” Liu wrote.
Natsu Oyobe, a curator of Asian Art at UMMA, said in an email to The Daily that the addition of calligraphy to the UMMA’s collection would facilitate a more holistic portrayal of Chinese art, which was primarily “focused to date on Chinese painting, ranging from the Song dynasty to 20th-century painters such as Zhang Daqian.”
Dr. Oyobe said, in accordance with the University’s Kenneth G. Lieberthal and Richard H. Rogel Center for Chinese Studies (LRCCS) and the University’s Asia Library, the collection aids the University’s already-prominent status as a major institution for the study of China.
“The collection will create great synergy with the existing collections at the Asia Library, attracting scholars and instructors who seek to incorporate the calligraphy collection in their research and teaching activities,” Oyobe wrote.
A date for the collection’s display has yet to be announced, though portions of the collection will be on display in the Shirley Chang Gallery of Chinese Art in the UMMA over the next two years.
Oyobe said the museum is currently exploring ways to readily display pieces from the collection for the general public’s viewing.
“We are exploring more immediate opportunities, such as workshops and special viewing events at UMMA’s study rooms for scholars and the general public,” Oyobe wrote. “We also hope to organize a larger exhibition to focus on the collection and the collector Lo Chia-Lun in (the) several years ahead.”
Art & Design junior Shivalika Kohli expressed interest in the new pieces at the UMMA, emphasizing the impact visiting has on her experience learning art history.
“I also minor in History of Art, so going through the UMMA has been a very integral part of a lot of the classes I’ve been taking,” Kohli said. “Often, as an art student, I don’t think I am going there particularly for inspiration, but it can be inspiring at the back of your (mind).”
Works from the collection will only be on display for a limited time. According to Oyobe, most works done on paper and silk are only on display for six months, then retired to storage for three years.
“All (this) is to say, calligraphy is not being put into an archaic box of old treasures, it is still much alive among real people,” Liu wrote. “People appreciate its complexity, depth, and marvel.”
Daily Staff Reporter Madison Kraft can be reached at email@example.com.
Daily News Contributor Rose Albayat contributed to the reporting of this article.