Chinese Painting Gallery, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, c. 2013

Chinese Painting Gallery, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, c. 2013

The Roles of Acquisition:
Collecting, Exhibiting, and Interpreting Chinese and Japanese Art for the Museum

Since inception in eighteenth-century Europe, museums have provided modern societies with a powerful tool to display and define their own cultures as well as those from around the world. During the twentieth century, museums in the United States, Britain, China, Japan, and Taiwan collected and displayed East Asian objects as art. In this course, we take a cross-cultural and comparative approach to explore the meanings created by the assemblage of Asian objects in museums. Through a series of case studies, we examine the development of specific museum collections of Asian materials, as well as the national, institutional, cultural, and personal aims for collecting, displaying, and interpreting them. In the process, we consider how museums have re-framed objects beyond their original contexts; the overlapping roles of private collectors, dealers, curators, and scholars; and the complex motives (e.g., national identity, cross-cultural diplomacy, preservation of cultural heritage) that museums have had for acquiring, displaying, and interpreting Chinese and Japanese objects. This course serves as as a research and methodology undergraduate seminar for art history majors.

Identity and Activism in Chinese and Japanese Contemporary Art

How and why do artists express personal, social, and cultural identity in their art and ideas? In what ways, and to what ends, do artists engage in political, environmental, and social activism? This undergraduate seminar explores these questions through the lens of contemporary Chinese and Japanese art from 1979 to the present. We consider painting, sculpture, ceramics, performance, photography, video/film, and installations. Key issues in our examinations include cultural and artistic history; trauma and memory; political activism and censorship; the body, gender and sexuality; globalization and transnationalism; the rapidly changing urban and natural environment; global audiences and the international art market; and the role of expatriate artists. Visits to the Circle of Animals: Zodiac Heads installation by AiWeiwei and viewing of other works at the Cleveland Museum of Art, attendance at guest lectures, and regular viewing of documentary, artist, and feature films are integral to the course.

Yin Xiuzhen,  Portable City , 2011

Yin Xiuzhen, Portable City, 2011

The Four Saints , album leaf, 14th century, Cleveland Museum of Art

The Four Saints, album leaf, 14th century, Cleveland Museum of Art

Convening Celestial Courts in Chinese Daoism

Supported with a grant from the Mellon Foundation

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s fifty-leaf album featuring dozens of figures from a Daoist celestial pantheon has been renowned among Chinese art historians and specialists in Daoist history and visual culture for almost a century. However, the album spent most of its time behind closed doors in private collections during the twentieth century. And it has yet to be significantly studied or exhibited since its acquisition by the museum in 2004. Prompted by two groups of leaves in the album, the seminar explores developments in the visual culture, history, and practices of Daoist and Buddhist religious traditions in China from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. Topics include: iconography and roles of members of the Daoist and Buddhist pantheons, with particular concentration on celestial and thunder deities and the bureaucracy of hell; sacred scriptures and liturgies; modes of ritual and meditative practice; and the visual culture of Buddhist and Daoist assemblies.

The ultimate outcome of this graduate seminar is a focus exhibition with leaves from the album as the show’s centerpiece. Additional objects and paintings are drawn from the Cleveland Museum of Art and other North American institutional collections. As part of the course, students participate in workshops and viewing sessions with curators, conservators, and visiting scholars. During the seminar, students research exhibition objects, write catalogue entries and gallery labels, and collaborate to create an online catalogue for the show, thereby providing students with the opportunity to gain curatorial experience.

History of Collecting and Exhibiting
Chinese Art in the Twentieth Century 

Gallery view,  Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting , Cleveland Museum of Art, 1981

Gallery view, Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting, Cleveland Museum of Art, 1981

This graduate seminar explores major themes, individuals, institutions, types of objects, and eras in the history of collecting and exhibiting Chinese art. Adopting a cross-cultural and comparative approach, we investigate practices of collecting and display within Asia, and in Britain, Europe, and the United States. We examine personal, institutional, cultural, and national aims for collecting as well as processes involved in collection formation. We also consider how exhibitions have served as social agents of discourse, acts of cultural diplomacy, and their impact on the evolution of artistic canons. Topics include cross-cultural transfer and re-framing of objects; divergent connoisseurship practices and aesthetic tastes; overlapping roles of private collectors, dealers, curators, and scholars; political, economic, and social factors that affected collecting and display; exhibitions and collections as expressions of cultural and national identity; the roles of imperialism and colonialism; and the circulation of objects in global art markets.