New York, it seems, has no monopoly on young artists who write stylized messages as part of their work. The Japanese -- as a joint exhibition at the Asia Society (725 Park Ave.) and Japan House (333 E. 47th St.) sets out to show -- had their youthful spirits long before Crash or Daze picked up a can of spray paint.
Ike Taiga, for instance, whose writings can be seen in the Asia House, formed his first character at the age of 2. By the time he turned 11, he had produced a complete scroll of brush-and-ink characters that rivaled in fidelity and grace those of the master calligraphers.
Calligraphy, of course, means beautiful handwriting, the highest of all Japanese art forms. And as beautiful as the characters Ike Taiga formed is the message he conveys, a poem about spring and cherry blossoms and peace. Of course, times were simpler in Japan in 1733. The country had entered its second century of peace and isolation. Ike Taiga, it may be assumed, did not feel alienated or angry, as contemporary artists/writers often seem.
"Masters of Japanese Calligraphy: 8th-19th Century," containing approximately 200 pieces, is on view through Jan. 1. It is divided neatly among the four distinct groups that practiced the art form: The works of artists and scholars, such as Ike Taiga, are shown in the Asia House; those of monks and courtesans at the Japan House. It is the most comprehensive exhibition of calligraphy ever mounted in this country. John Rosenfield of Harvard and Yoshiaki Shimizu of Princeton spent several years gathering examples from more than 24 western collections. (No eastern collectors would contribute.)
In one of the many essays in the handsome catalogue accompanying the exhibition, the organizers attempt to connect East and West. The works of American abstract expressionists Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock owe a debt, they maintain, to the brush techniques of Ike Taiga and others. No mention is made, however, of graffiti artists. Although it may also aim to communicate, graffiti does not mean beautiful writing -- it means crude words scratched on walls.
More artful writing can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In "The John M. Crawford Jr. Collection: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy," on view in two parts through the spring in the Douglas Dillon Galleries, there are more than 80 examples of the art form the Chinese considered one of three virtues -- equal to poetry and painting.
Chinese calligraphy tends to be more detailed and sumptuous than the Japanese. The hanging scrolls, handscrolls, album leaves and fans, handsomely installed near the Ming-style Astor Court, amply reveal this difference in a fitting counterpart to the joint Japanese exhibitions.
Crash and Daze, two of the elders of the graffiti movement that has climbed from the sides of subway cars to the walls of art galleries, have their writings up for comparison viewing, too. Fluorescent spray-painted messages by these 23-year-old masters of the aerosol can school are up at the Sidney Janis Gallery (110 W. 57th St.).
Twenty-three may not seem like a veteran age, but when you consider that graffiti writers -- like some historic calligraphers -- often make their first mark at age 2, Crash and Daze seem venerable.man Kenneth Feld, ran for 14 previews and nine performances.