The Handwriting on the Wall - Pasadena Weekly

Asia Pacific Museum’s mixing of calligraphy and graffiti questions assumptions about power, culture and art

By Carl Kozlowski 09/10/2009
(Pasadena Weekly)

Art for the People by Charles (Chaz) Bojorquez, Keo, Man One, Xu Bing, and Zender; Pasadena, CA; 2003;Paint on vinyl; Pacific Asia Museum

Remember those old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials from the 1970s in which someone munching chocolate smacks into someone eating peanut butter, at which point both people decided that “these are two great tastes that go great together.”
The Pacific Asia Museum has updated that idea in a far more artistic fashion with its new exhibit, “Calligraffiti: Writing in Contemporary Chinese and Latino Art.”

In this innovative show running from Sept. 17 to Jan. 17, the museum blends works by Chinese artists who reinterpret the ways in which traditional calligraphy is used and pieces by Latino artists who push artistic boundaries with graffiti.

“Traditionally, calligraphy and graffiti seem to be radically different types of artistic writing,” says Yeonsoo Chee, the museum’s curatorial assistant. “In China, calligraphy is linked with elite education and self-expression, while in contemporary America graffiti is associated with ‘street’ culture. The concept of calligraffiti — adding calligraphy and graffiti together — questions underlying assumptions about power, culture and art.”

Chee notes that at the heart of the exhibition are three powerful murals created for the museum back in 2003 by a dozen artists, including Xu Bing and Charles “Chaz” Bojorquez. Created at a workshop held at the Pacific Asia Museum in conjunction with the exhibition “Drawing the Line: Contemporary Artists Reassess Traditional East Asian Calligraphy,” the murals were sparked by a discussion in the museum’s parking lot among graffiti artists about the use of words and text in contemporary art.

Artists featured in the exhibition include: Apex, Chaz Bojorquez, Vince Cavallo, Cre8, Desi W.O.M.E., Duce, Fung Ming Chip, Gronk, Gu Wenda, Julianna Hernandez, Keo, Leo Limon, Man One, Minette Lee Mangahas, Sano, Scud, John Valadez, Vyal, Xu Bing, Yu Kun Yang, Zhang Dali, Zheng Chongbin and Zender.

Ultimately, the exhibit is built on the idea that art mirrors the realities of life, according to the museums press release, can express “the elevated and debased, intention and chance, reality and myth” through calligraffiti, bringing two great cultures together in a unique and powerful way.

“Calligraffiti: Writing in Contemporary Chinese and Latino Art” runs from Sept. 17 through Jan. 17 at the Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena. Admission is $9 adults, $7 students and seniors and free for kids 11 and under.
Call (626) 449-2742 or visit

"See you at the opening!"