Exhibition at The Met to Explore Themes of Solitude and Togetherness in Chinese Art through 120 Works of Painting, Calligraphy, and Decorative Arts

The twin themes of solitude and togetherness in Chinese art will be explored in the exhibition Companions in Solitude: Reclusion and Communion in Chinese Art, opening July 31 at The Met. For more than 2,000 years, reclusion—removing oneself from society—has been presented as the ideal condition for mental cultivation and transcending worldly troubles. At the same time, communion with like-minded people has been celebrated as essential to the human experience. This choice, to be alone or to be together, has been central to the lives of thinkers and artists, and Chinese art abounds with images of figures who pursued both paths—as well as those who wove them together in complex and surprising ways. 

Presented in two rotations, this exhibition will bring together more than 120 works of painting, calligraphy, and decorative arts from the 11th to 21st century that illuminate this choice—depictions of why and how people have sought space from the world or attempted to bridge the divide between themselves and others. In the wake of 2020, a year that isolated people physically but connected them virtually in unprecedented ways, this exploration of premodern Chinese reclusion and communion will invite meditation on the fracture and facture of human connection in our own time.

The exhibition is made possible by the Joseph Hotung Fund.

The exhibition will be organized thematically in eight sections: Confronting Nature, The Rustic Retreat, Fishermen and Woodcutters, Famous Recluses, Bridging the Distance, The Garden, The Poetry of Reclusion, and The Elegant Gathering. Works on view will be drawn almost entirely from The Met collection.

Highlights of the first rotation (July 31, 2021–January 9, 2022) will include Summer Retreat in the Eastern Grove(datable to before 1515), an early work of painting and calligraphy by Wen Zhengming, the leading figure of the Ming-dynasty Suzhou art scene; Wu Li’s Whiling Away the Summer(dated 1679), a tour de force of elegant brushwork that depicts a gentleman enjoying the solitude of his garden on a summer afternoon; and Li Jie’s Fisherman’s Lodge at Mt. Xisai(circa 1170), one of the earliest depictions of a scholar’s country retreat to survive from Chinese art and a foundational work for the study of reclusion. Details about the second rotation (January 31–August 14, 2022) will be announced at a later date.


Companions in Solitude: Reclusion and Communion in Chinese Art is organized by Joseph Scheier-Dolberg, the Oscar Tang and Agnes Hsu-Tang Associate Curator of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy in the Department of Asian Art.

The exhibition will be featured on The Met website as well as on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #MetChineseArt.



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