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Renowned Chinese Artist’s First Exhibition in United States
Cao Jun: Hymns to Nature
February 5–June 3, 2018

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (December 2017) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College presents the first United States exhibition of works by contemporary Chinese artist Cao Jun. Cao Jun: Hymns to Nature will be on display in the Museum’s Daley Family and Monan Galleries from February 5 through June 3, 2018.

The exhibition comprises sixty-four works, all from the artist’s collection, consisting of watercolor and mixed media paintings, calligraphy, porcelain, and digital media.

Cao Jun was born in 1966 and raised in Jiangsu Province in southern China, where the lakes and rivers shaped his childhood environment. He studied and worked for eighteen years near Mount Tai, one of China’s most ancient places of worship and ceremonial ritual. Concrete experience of both aquatic sites and mountainous terrain informed Cao Jun’s approach to artistic creation. After formal training in Beijing, he settled in New Zealand and traveled throughout Europe and the United States. More recently he journeyed to the polar regions and northern Alaska. During his travels, he gained new perspectives that influenced his work.

Hymns to Nature examines the deep roots of Cao Jun’s art in the experience of nature and how he portrays our place within it, according to organizers. It also illuminates his novel responses to admired, earlier paintings by his countrymen, and encourages viewers to ponder a dynamic dialogue between Chinese art of the past and that of the present.

“The McMullen Museum is grateful to Professor Sallis [curator, Boston College Philosophy Department] for bringing Cao Jun, already well known in China, to our attention and to working with us to organize this important contemporary artist’s first exhibition and accompanying scholarly publication in the United States,” said McMullen Museum of Art Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

[MEDIA NOTE: A selection of press images is available here (file names contain credit information). Please email Kate Shugert with questions. Slideshow of images, more exhibition details here.]

Organized by the McMullen Museum, Hymns to Nature is curated by John Sallis, the Frederick J. Adelmann, SJ Professor of Philosophy at Boston College. The exhibition is underwritten by Boston College with major support from the Patrons of the McMullen Museum.

“Since I first saw Cao Jun’s paintings while visiting his museum complex in Wuxi, China, I have become increasingly convinced that he is among the most highly original and creative artists of our time,” said Sallis. “His art blends exquisitely the themes of the classical Chinese tradition with modern artistic features similar to those of Western art. From his early depictions of wild animals to his recent, more abstract paintings of the most elemental forces of nature and the cosmos, his work brings to light profound visions that, without his art, would remain unseen. Curating this exhibition has only deepened my appreciation of his remarkable artistic achievement.”

Cao Jun: Hymns to Nature

“It is an honor to stage Hymns to Nature at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College—my first solo exhibition since immigrating to the United States,” said Cao Jun. “Including a collection of representative works reflecting eight different artistic styles that I have created over the past nearly thirty years, I strongly believe that it will be the most important exhibition of my life.”

[Cao Jun’s website]

Arranged thematically, the exhibition opens with Cao Jun’s early works depicting wild animals. It moves on to later paintings where he employs the techniques of ink- and color-splashing to render mountain landscapes, water, and flowers. Subsequent areas display his calligraphy and porcelain. The exhibition concludes with more recent abstract works exploring the various configurations in which spatial phenomena can appear.

Exhibition sections include: The Spirit of Animality; The Poetics of Water; The Look of Landscape; Botanicals; Reflections of Autumn; Dreams of Space; Calligraphy; Porcelain; Songs of the Earth.

“John Sallis’s interpretation of my works has been penetratingly profound, as he has balanced the convergence of Eastern and Western cultures contained in the images that I created with points, lines, and planes to interpret my stories and spiritual pursuits,” Cao Jun said. “Working with Nancy Netzer and the staff of an internationally leading academic museum like the McMullen has been a truly rewarding experience.”

Exhibition Catalogue

Hymns to Nature is accompanied by a catalogue, edited by Sallis, with contributions by Chinese and American scholars that examine the ways in which Cao Jun’s art fuses elements of classical Chinese painting with modern abstract forms akin to those of Western art. Essays also discuss the philosophical and poetic dimensions of the artist’s work, as well as Cao Jun’s profound connections to the natural world.

In his introduction, Sallis writes: “During the past decade, Cao Jun has visited many of the most important museums in the world in order to study at first hand their masterpieces. This experience has widened his horizon, yet also has made him aware of the differences between Asian art and Western art; his awareness of these differences is, in part, responsible for the unpredictable, diverse styles of his art.”

Accompanying Free, Public Events

Public programming is planned for families and the general public. For more information, and to register for those events that require advance registration (as indicated below), please visit the McMullen Museum Events Calendar. More events will be added leading up to this exhibition; visit the website and subscribe to the McMullen mailing list for programming updates.

Second Saturdays Children’s Program: Every second Saturday of each month, beginning on February 10, the McMullen Museum offers young children and families opportunities to engage with its temporary exhibitions. A variety of activities—including storytelling, tours, games, music, and crafts—invite children to explore themes in the works on display. Prior registration is required via the McMullen Museum Events Calendar. A Second Saturdays spring celebration will be held on March 10 from noon to 5 pm.

Docent Tours: Beginning on Sunday, February 18, the McMullen Museum will offer free docent tours every Sunday from 2 to 3 pm. No prior registration is required. If you would like to schedule a separate, private tour, please contact the Museum, at 617.552.8587, at least two weeks in advance.

Conference: “Painting Nature: The Art of Cao Jun”: Friday, February 23, 1–6 pm; Saturday, February 24, 1–6 pm
In conjunction with the exhibition Cao Jun: Hymns to Nature, the McMullen Museum has organized a symposium of six scholars, including curator John Sallis, to give papers on the artist and his works.

Walk + Talk with Curator John Sallis: Friday, March 16, noon–1 pm
Visitors are invited to join BC professor, and curator of Cao Jun: Hymns to Nature, John Sallis for an informal tour and Q&A in the Daley Family and Monan Galleries. He will introduce major organizational themes and discuss both the making of the exhibition and the artist.

Student Conference: “Chinese Art in the New Millennium”: Friday, April 13, McMullen Museum, Hill Room 111
The McMullen Museum and BC’s Asian Studies Program have organized an interdisciplinary academic conference composed of new student research in the field of Chinese art. Harvard University’s Eugene Wang, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art, will act as the keynote speaker. The conference is free and open to the public.

Into the Collection: These events offer visitors an opportunity to view and learn more about various objects from the McMullen Museum’s permanent collection that are rarely on display. Visitors are invited to learn from Museum staff, ask questions, and share their own knowledge and observations. Spring events include:

Into the Collection: Twentieth-Century Prints: Wednesday, April 11, noon–1 pm
The Museum will showcase a collection of modern twentieth-century prints.

Into the Collection: East Asian Works on Paper: Thursday, March 22, 5:15–6:15 pm
A series of East Asian works on paper will be featured.

Into the Collection: Meiji Cabinet and Fountain: Saturday, May 19, 2–3 pm
The Museum will display and discuss two Japanese objects from the Meiji era (1868–1912), including a wooden cabinet and a fountain.

McMullen Museum of Art

The McMullen Museum aims to cultivate learning, celebrate artistic excellence, explore the visual traditions of diverse cultures, and inspire transdisciplinary faculty and student research based on the visual arts. The McMullen offers exhibition-related programs and resources for diverse audiences of all ages on campus, in the Greater Boston area, and beyond. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs.

The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 for the late BC benefactor, trustee, and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen. In 2005, the McMullen Family Foundation provided a lead gift to renovate and build an addition to the Neo-Renaissance palazzo at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue. Designed in 1927 by architects Maginnis and Walsh, the building originally served as the home of Boston’s cardinal archbishops. The renovation was completed in spring 2016 and opened to the public on September 12, 2016.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours

Admission is free; handicapped accessible, open to the public. Located at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02135 on BC’s 65-acre Brighton Campus. Hours during this exhibition: Monday–Wednesday and Friday, 10 am–5 pm; Thursday, 10 am–8 pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon–5 pm. The Museum will be closed: Friday, March 30; Sunday, April 1; Monday, April 16; and Monday, May 28. Contact:, 617.552.8587. All events are free and open to the public. For directions, parking, and program information, visit

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