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10: Jun 2014

Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art: Historiographic Reflections

Guest edited by Wenny Teo (Courtauld Institute)

ToC:

Guo Hui (Nanjing Normal University), ‘Canonization in early twentieth-century Chinese art history’ 10/HG1

Nicole T.C. Chiang (Museum of East Asian Art, Bath), ‘Redefining an imperial collection: problems of modern impositions and interpretations’ 10/NC1

Chia-Ling Yang (Edinburgh), ‘ Power, identity and antiquarian approaches in modern Chinese art’, 10/CLY1

John Clark, (Sydney), ‘Is the modernity of Chinese art comparable? An opening of a theoretical space’ 10/JC1

Paul Gladston (The University of Nottingham), ‘Deconstructing Gao Minglu: critical reflections on contemporaneity and associated exceptionalist readings of contemporary Chinese art’ 10/PG1

Joshua Gong (Sussex), ‘Lv Peng and his Chinese Art History in Operation, since 1986’ 10/JG1

Peggy Wang (Bowdoin College), ‘Making and remaking history: categorising ‘conceptual art’ in contemporary Chinese art’ 10/PW1

Orianna Cacchione (University of California, San Diego), ‘To enter art history – reading and writing art history in China during the Reform Era’, 10/OC1

Franziska Koch (Heidelberg), ‘Strategies of Mediation. Considering photographs of artworks created by the ‘Stars’ in 1979/80 and their changing historiographical status’, 10/FK1

Birgit Hopfener (Free University Berlin), ‘Qiu Zhijie’s self-conception as an artist – doing art in a critical historical and transcultural perspective’ 10/BH1

In memoriam

Zaixin Hong (University of Puget Sound), ‘James Cahill and the Study of Chinese Painting’ 10/ZH1

Jerome Silbergeld (Princeton), ‘Michael Sullivan and his study of modern and Contemporary Chinese Painting’ 10/JS1

Abstracts:

Guo Hui (Nanjing Normal University), ‘Canonization in early twentieth-century Chinese art history’ 10/HG1

Abstract: Since the 1980s, the discussion of canons has been a dominant theme in the discipline of Western art history. Various concerns have emerged regarding ‘questions of artistic judgment’, ‘the history genesis of masterpieces’, ‘variations in taste’, ‘the social instruments of canonicity’, and ‘how canons disappear’. Western art historians have considered how the canon’s appearance in Western visual art embodies aesthetic, ideological, cultural, social, and symbolic values. In Chinese art history, the idea of a canon including masterpieces, important artists, and forms of art, dates back to the mid ninth century when Zhang Yanyuan wrote his painting history Record of Famous Painters of All the Dynasties.

Faced with quite different political, economic, and social conditions amid the instability of the early twentieth century, Chinese scholars attempted to discover new canons for cultural orthodoxy and authority. Modern means for canonization, such as museums and exhibition displays, cultural and academic institutions, and massive art publications with image reproduction in good quality, brought the process up to an unprecedented speed. It is true that most of these means have comparable counterparts in pre-modern times. However, their enormous scope and overwhelming influence are far beyond the reach of their imperial counterparts.

Through an inter-textual reading of the publications on Chinese art history in early twentieth-century China, this paper explores the transformation of canons in order to shed light on why and how canonical formation happened during the Republican period of China. Despite the diverse styles and strategies which Chinese writers used in their narratives, Chinese art historical books produced during the Republican period canonized and de-canonized artworks. In this paper, the discussion of these texts, with reference to other art historical works, comprises three parts: 1) canon formation of artistic forms within the new ideas of fine arts and Chinese art; 2) canonization in the historical temporal structures established by modern Chinese art history writing; 3) canon construction and deconstruction of artists and artworks under the influence of contemporary art production.

Canonization in Chinese art during the early decades of the twentieth century applied new paradigms to organize old and new information of Chinese art into usable knowledge. This process of writing new histories for Chinese art contributed to the formation of a modern Chinese art history field.

Keywords: canonization; hierarchy;judgements of quality; Republican period of China; modern Chinese art history

Nicole T.C. Chiang (Museum of East Asian Art, Bath), ‘Redefining an imperial collection: problems of modern impositions and interpretations’ 10/NC1

Abstract: This paper challenges the assumed popular identity of the so-called Qianlong imperial art collection and argues that it has been largely constructed with modern Eurocentric views.  By applying philological and historiographical analysis, the original meaning of the collection, as it was understood in the eighteenth century, is restored.  The new definition reveals that the actualcollection was not as monumental as previously portrayed.  In addition, by re-examining the political and historical milieu of the early twentieth century, it is disclosed that the financial strain faced by the Qing imperial household and the need to promote nationalism by the Republican government both contributed to the destruction of the original definition of the actual collection.  Overall, this paper will challenge the “canon” that has been constituted around the collection after the twentieth century and provides an alternative understanding towards imperial collecting activities.

Keywords: Qianlong; art collection; imperial household; Qing; nationalism

Chia-Ling Yang (Edinburgh), ‘ Power, identity and antiquarian approaches in modern Chinese art’, 10/CLY1

Abstract: The pursuit of antiquity was important for scholarly artists in constructing their knowledge of history and cultural identity in late Imperial China. Following various publications by Bi Yuan 畢沅 (1730-1797), Wu Yi 武億 (1745-1799) and Qian Daxin 錢大昕 (1728-1804) in the 18th century, the study and collecting of rubbings of Northern Wei stone inscriptions and steles was popular. Such spread of interest in jinshi, inscriptions on metal and stone, also formed a base for studying seal carving, epigraphy and archaic painting. While traditional antiquarians would cherish inscriptions which enabled them to correct mistakes in the transmitted historical texts and the Classics, however, much of the antiquarian activity was adapted to mere literary exercise or connoisseurship, for instance, to supplying materials which could provide models for seal-carving and calligraphy. Examples could be seen in the calligraphy works and seal carvings of the Xiling bajia 西泠八家 (Eight Masters of Xiling, i.e. Hangzhou), also known as Zhe School of Calligraphy and Carving. Their keen interest in seeking inspiration from steles for their artistic presentations has been recorded in their writing and painting. In addition, the way the scholar-collector of the 19th and early 20th centuries mounted the rubbings, seals, inscriptions, paintings, letters and textual evidence studies into one album shows a changing ideology: rubbings were not only for scholarly study in classical learning, but were regarded as part of the art form and were appreciated on various social occasions. The antiquarian movement ultimately served as a tool for re-writing art historiography in modern China.

This paper aims to address the phenomenon and formation of the jinshi painting that dominated in late Imperial and early modern China. Through case studies of three important jinshi societies in Shanghai, I will investigate in what way literary taste from the southern region gradually replaced imperial patronage which was in decline after the Qianlong emperor’s reign, and how the shift of the cultural centre from Beijing to the southern regions from the mid-19th century onwards became a reflection of changing power and identity for cultural leaders and their perspectives in history and the history of objects.

Keywords: Yilao; Qing loyalists; art society; collecting and commodity; Guohua; National Chinese Painting; Republican China; Jinshi; epigraphy; Huang Binhong; Luo Zhenyu; Wu Changshi

John Clark, (Sydney), ‘Is the modernity of Chinese art comparable? An opening of a theoretical space’ 10/JC1

Abstract: The expansion of the art market and in some ways ‘Western’ art cultural obsession with the way modern Chinese art has entered the world since the early 1980s has overshadowed many issues critical for modern art historiography concerning both China and its place in a modern Asian art. Is Chinese modern art of one kind, and does it have a similar conceptual and empirical topology to other modernities in Asia? Can we examine how these art cultures face the same issues over time? I examine the similarity between Asian cases such as China and Thailand and indicate some of the ways in which an Asian modernity in art can be mapped that is relatively independent of Euramerican types or models. [Erratum: Figure 18 Beijing Advertising Billboards, Jin Houjie, 1999, photographed by John Clark, is is an incorrect left-right inversion, where the right side should be at left.]

Keywords: modern Chinese art; Asian modernities; expansion of the art market; China and Thailand

Paul Gladston (The University of Nottingham), ‘Deconstructing Gao Minglu: critical reflections on contemporaneity and associated exceptionalist readings of contemporary Chinese art’ 10/PG1

Abstract: In this article, I shall seek to offer an ethically/politically focused critique of exceptionalist accounts of the development of contemporary Chinese art. I shall begin by giving a brief overview of thinking associated with the concept of contemporaneity. I shall then go on to analyze critically an essay by the historian and curator Gao Minglu, which asserts that contemporary Chinese art is open to localized Chinese interpretative perspectives separate from those of internationally dominant postmodernist discourses. In analyzing Gao’s essay, I shall not only argue that its exceptionalist account of the significance of contemporary Chinese art relies on highly selective readings of historical ‘fact’, but also that it is theoretically contradictory/inconsistent and therefore unsustainable as a categorical truth claim. I shall then conclude by examining the ethical/political implications of Gao’s exceptionalist account of the significance of contemporary Chinese art as well as advancing some first thoughts towards a general critique of contemporaneity.

Keywords: contemporaneity; contemporary Chinese art; identity; exceptionalism; deconstruction; feminism

Joshua Gong (Sussex), ‘Lv Peng and his Chinese Art History in Operation, since 1986’ 10/JG1

Abstract: Lv Peng is one of the most influential contemporary Chinese art historians, who began publishing his work in 1986 and introduced various innovative approaches and methods to the field. Even though his work gained momentum in the field, his totalising and continually-revised publication scheme have come under incessant criticism from friends and rivals alike. This article is an attempt at surveying Lv Peng’s oeuvre, while testifying to the value of his art history writings by making his various approaches more legible and systematic. His most popular publications as well as a few projects that are still in progress will be analysed for a more comprehensive understanding of his operational art history.

Keywords: Lv Peng; curating; historicising; operating

Peggy Wang (Bowdoin College), ‘Making and remaking history: categorising ‘conceptual art’ in contemporary Chinese art’ 10/PW1

Abstract: During the 1990s, curators and critics embraced conceptual art as a category for legitimizing Chinese art’s global and contemporary status.  Conceptual art’s ambiguous parameters, critical cachet, and penchant for destabilization offered unprecedented opportunities for demonstrating Chinese art as globally relevant without being imitative, historical without being traditional, and resistant without being reduced to ‘dissident’.  In order to apply the label, however, authors necessarily contended with post-colonial anxieties about imported terms and frameworks.  This paper examines how curators and critics of contemporary Chinese art turned to writing and rewriting history—through constructed strategic lineages and cross-cultural comparisons—in order to accommodate the category of conceptual art in their claims for global parity.

Keywords: conceptual art, guannian yishu, gainian yishu, contemporary Chinese art, conceptualism, global art

Orianna Cacchione (University of California, San Diego), ‘To enter art history – reading and writing art history in China during the Reform Era’, 10/OC1

Abstract: This paper critically analyses how Western art history was imported, translated and negotiated in China during the Reform Era. Using Lydia Liu’s theory of “meaning-value,” the author considers how Chinese artists and art critics made sense of these texts within the context of Chinese art production in the early 1980s and 1990s. The author argues that Lin Jiahua’s artwork, To Enter Art History – Slideshow Activity (1988) anticipates a change in the relationship between Western art history and contemporary Chinese art practice from the translation and appropriation of Western modern art in the 1980s to the participation of Chinese within the emergent international art world of 1990s. By combing Chinese art within the canon of Western art history, these artists and critics proposed a spatial re- mapping of art history, decentering it from its Western-centric genealogies.

Keywords: translation; contemporary Chinese art; Xu Bing; Ai Weiwei; Xiamen Dada; Huang Yong Ping; Lin Jiahua

Franziska Koch (Heidelberg), ‘Strategies of Mediation. Considering photographs of artworks created by the ‘Stars’ in 1979/80 and their changing historiographical status’, 10/FK1

Abstract: The article introduces a set of unpublished thirty-two black and white photographs which feature artworks that were created by the Chinese artists group the ‘Stars’ (Xingxing). The photographic prints were circulated in connection with the first and second exhibition of this pioneering group of amateur artists in Beijing (1979–1980). The author explores the role these photographs played when Chinese artists searched for innovative ways to address an expanding local public as well as an increasingly international audience, after the end of the Cultural Revolution. She also considers how the historiographical status of these prints has changed since 1979/80 until today.

Keywords: The ‘Stars’; Xingxing; China; modernism; mediation; transculturality; art historiography; memory

Birgit Hopfener (Free University Berlin), ‘Qiu Zhijie’s self-conception as an artist – doing art in a critical historical and transcultural perspective’ 10/BH1

Abstract: This essay examines Qiu Zhijie’s self-conception as an artist. The point of departure is the artist’s concern that ‘art must transform life’. Based on a selection of artworks and critical writings and focusing specifically on his concept of ‘Total Art’ (zongti yishu) the article introduces how Qiu Zhijie re-thinks the classical idea of art as self-cultivation as a critical historical and transcultural practice of connecting and interrelating with reality. It is in this context that the essay presents Qiu Zhijie’s practice of self-cultivation as the pursuit of social change on the one hand, and in relation to his role as a critical historiographer on the other hand.

Keywords: Calligraphy; contemporary; interrelational; self-cultivation; situatedness; total art; transcultural

In memoriam

Zaixin Hong (University of Puget Sound), ‘James Cahill and the Study of Chinese Painting’ 10/ZH1

Abstract: James Cahill was a leading scholar in the field of Chinese painting studies through his influential teaching and most original and prolific writings. From a global, verbal, and visual perspective, this essay examines how significantly he has challenged and thereby enriched the extant art scholarships in China and the West, and what an enduring legacy he has left behind him in the art historiography.

Keywords: James Cahill, Chinese Painting, cross-contextual paradigm, visual argument

Jerome Silbergeld (Princeton), ‘Michael Sullivan and his study of modern and Contemporary Chinese Painting’ 10/JS1

Abstract: The late Michael Sullivan was the foremost pioneer in the study of 20th-century Chinese painting and the roots of modernity in Chinese art history. This essay examines the biographical factors and underlying values that consistently shaped and appear in his many writings on the subject.

Keywords: Michael Sullivan; modernity in Chinese painting; Chinese Art in the Twentieth Century; The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present; Art and Artists of Twentieth-Century China; Modern Chinese Artists: A Biographical Dictionary