July 2, 2018
On June 16th, 2018, 14 undergraduate and MFA students from the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago arrived in Beijing for the DoVA China Program. This year, the trip was led by Geof Oppenheimer, an Associate Professor of Practice in the Arts at the University of Chicago, and Orianna Cacchione, the Curator of Global Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum.
Oppenheimer first conceived of the program five years ago while on a trip to Beijing. He became interested in the contributions that studying Chinese art and culture first-hand could make to the DoVA curriculum. Since then, the program has taken place every other year. This was Cacchione's first year on the program, but certainly not her first time in Beijing, having lived in China for several years before completing a curatorial fellowship in Contemporary East Asian Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her expertise in Asian art made her invaluable for the program's goals of pushing students to examine the relationship between artists and institutions, and discover how China's unique history has produced a distinctive artistic culture.
Through visits to some of the most vibrant artistic spaces in Beijing and discussions with a number of prominent figures in the artistic community, the trip to Beijing served as a case study for a course that the students took during their spring quarter at the University of Chicago. The group spent several days in the 798 Arts District, a hub for Chinese artists and art museums, during which time they visited the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art (UCCA), and enjoyed conversations with Bao Dong, an independent art curator and leader in the production of critical art in Beijing, and Philip Tinari, Director of the UCCA. This taught the students about the processes and challenges of bringing Chinese contemporary art into the global conversation. They also visited the CAFA Art Museum, the Inside Out Museum, the private collection of one of China's "super-collectors", the Poly Auction house, and a selection of Beijing's independent art spaces. Their visits exposed them to a wide variety of artistic genres and styles spanning China's artistic history. Moreover, the students were able to converse with their curators and program directors, giving them insight into what it means to be an artist in China.
This year's trip was a great learning experience for the students, and the Center in Beijing looks forward to lending its support to the next DoVA trip.