Getty Dissertation Workshop in Art History

June 30, 2019

The University of Chicago Center in Beijing successfully hosted the first University of Chicago/Getty Dissertation Workshop in Chinese Art History from June 18–30. Led by UChicago Professor of Art History Wu Hung, the workshop welcomed 10 Ph.D. candidates, each representing a different university from China or around the world, with classes being exclusively conducted at the Center in Beijing during the two weeks.

Earlier this year, the Getty Foundation, a philanthropic organization that promotes grant initiatives to strengthen art history as an international discipline, awarded the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago a two-year grant to foster bourgeoning Chinese art historians through dissertation workshops and a traveling seminar. Hosting the first of four 12-day dissertation workshops scheduled in the next two year between Beijing and Chicago, the Center in Beijing served as a launching point for students to engage with the Beijing art community.

In addition to presentations of students’ dissertations and discussions of different research methods and skills, the workshop featured several guest speakers, as well as several excursion site visits for the students. Professor Zheng Yan of the Central Academy of Fine Arts spoke about the relation between archaeology and Chinese art history, including how the two disciplines treat objects of study differently, as well as how concepts and ways of thinking in one field can influence the other. Another guest speaker, Professor Tang Hongfeng of Peking University, gave a talk titled “Image and Medium: Keywords in Modern Chinese Visual Culture,” which discussed the issue of technology as it relates to image production.

A 5th-year Ph.D. candidate at UChicago, Yang Panpan, whose dissertation topic is the History of Chinese Animation from 1920s–Present, greatly appreciated Professor Tang’s thorough lecture. “Her talk was truly informative and impressive,” she said. “The method of media archeology that she introduced in her talk inspired me to think about the possibilities of an alternative way of writing the history of Chinese animation. To be more specific, I am seeking the possibilities of putting parts of the history of Chinese animation in space, as if they were movable, translucent celluloid sheets stacked together. This will allow me to see them in their wholeness, to analyze their inter-connections, to read one part through another, and to unveil history’s continuity and discontinuity, patterns and disruptions that are often less evident when compiling chronicles.”

Excursions beyond the classroom included visits to the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing’s 798 Art District, as well as several artists’ work studios. In addition to attending the UCCA’s recent art exhibition, the students had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Philip Tinari, Director of UCCA, about the museum’s development in Beijing and the significance of that in Beijing’s art scene. Workshop students also visited the art studio of Chinese contemporary artists Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, to discuss their artwork, as well as the photography studio of Tong Bingxue, who began as an amateur collector of historical Chinese photographs.

Reflecting on Tong Bingxue’s photography studio, Hua Shuo, a 4th-year Ph.D. candidate from the University of Hong Kong, believed “it was a precious opportunity to visit one of the best and well-archived collection of early Chinese photography, ranging from photos across a variety of

timespans, mediums, techniques and themes. Mr. Tong shared real experience of how he started to collect his first piece of early Chinese photos, and systematically built up a coherent and diverse collection, while researching and writing the history of early Chinese photograph. He also shared insight about new, emerging fields for art historian researchers to investigate.”

The University of Chicago/Getty Dissertation Workshop in Chinese Art History brought together budding art history scholars from around the world to develop greater inroads within and out of China, with the UChicago Center in Beijing serving as the link for these students and artists.