McMullen Museum Opens Hymns to Nature Exhibit

by Natasha Zinos


The McMullen Museum is currently presenting Cao Jun’s first exhibition in the United States. Cao Jun: Hymns to Nature features the artwork of contemporary Chinese artist Cao Jun. The diverse mediums used by the artist including calligraphy, watercolors, and porcelain, produce an array of works that each “sing” their own hymn to nature. As the artist said, “The images on my canvases are the hymns I write to nature.”   

Born in 1966 in Jiangsu province in southern China, Cao Jun’s artwork is both rich with classical Chinese tradition while being influence by modern styles. John Sallis, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, the curator of this exhibition has written of Cao Jun that he is aware of the differences between Asian and Western art, and that “his awareness of these differences is, in part, responsible for the unpredictable, diverse styles of his art.”


Upon visiting the exhibit, I was immediately captivated by the piece Poetic Water. Composed of gorgeously colored, swirling blues, this work was inspired by Cao Jun’s experience voyaging to Antarctica, one of the more recent journeys he has made. In Cleansing the Mortal Heart in the Clear World, Cao Jun’s technique of “color-splashing” is featured in the glittering blue center that spreads across the gray mountain crags. Like the reinvigoration that this painting suggests, Cao Jun insists that the artist has to come in contact with nature to have a clear vision of the world saying, “it is inadvisable to divorce oneself from reality and simply follow what others have said.” His dynamic combination of traditional and modern techniques reflects his philosophy that a person has to gain perspective to understand what they see.


The exhibit is organized according to themes, and the sections include The Spirit of Animality, The Poetics of Water, The Look of Landscape, Botanicals, Reflections of Autumn, Dreams of Space, Calligraphy, Porcelain, and Songs of the Earth. Each section’s theme is captured in both the subject matter and the medium. Calligraphy features Cao Jun’s works of Chinese calligraphy; an art he calls “one of the highest forms of human art.” This section also includes the magnificent piece Genesis, which spreads from the wall to the floor. This piece is described as a turning point in Cao Jun’s evolving style. Painted in ink, it depicts lava seen by the artist in New Zealand, which he thought represented the idea of the earth “as the mother of all that comes to be.”

This exhibit calls for a visit to Boston College’s art museum where you can experience a unique enchantment with nature at the intersection of art and poetry, and art at the intersection of ancient and modern, Eastern and Western.

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