UChicago MFA Students Research Arts in Beijing with Laura Letinsky and Geof Oppenheimer

  • The UChicago MFA students were accompanied to the Great Wall by students from Shandong University in Jinan.(Photo by Stephanie Trevor)

  • Laura Letinsky (foreground) at the Whitespace Beijing gallery (photo by Stephanie Trevor)

  • Artist Jin Zenghe speaks to the group near his outdoor sculpture in the 798 Arts District.

  • At the Central Academy of Fine Art (photo by Marco Ferrari)

  • Geof Oppenheimer and Laura Letinsky speaking about their artwork at Shandong University in Jinan (photo by Marco Ferrari)

October 16, 2012

Untitled 39"26", 115"25" - 117"30": MFA Study in Beijing

September 17-29, 2012

Formulated and led by Laura Letinsky, Co-led by Geof Oppenheimer

On September 17, 2012, a group of 14 Masters of Fine Arts students from the University of Chicago arrived in Beijing for a groundbreaking hands-on program focused on the city’s contemporary art scene. The students, all members of the second-year MFA cohort at UChicago, enjoyed gallery visits, talks with artists and administrators, workshop discussions, and cultural experiences planned by Visual Arts professor Laura Letinsky and co-led by fellow professor Geof Oppenheimer. The MFA students are all practicing artists, yet the program at UChicago also emphasizes theory, history, reading, and discussion, so the students enjoyed critically engaging with what they saw in Beijing. Untitled 39"26", 115"25" - 117"30", named for Beijing's geographic coordinates, was one of a growing number of short-term programs hosted at the Center in partnership with the University's graduate departments and schools.

Untitled 39"26", 115"25" - 117"30": MFA Study in Beijing also included a visit to our collaborator institution Shandong University (Jinan, Shandong Province), where the group participated in another discussion workshop with Chinese students. Professor Letinsky spoke on her work at Shandong University, an Asia Society Gathering, and Peking University, while Professor Oppenheimer spoke at the UChicago Center in Beijing and Shandong University. The UChicago students were also joined in Beijing by ten undergraduate and graduate Chinese students from Shandong University, who had a diverse range of arts-focused and non-arts backgrounds and contributed to the cross-cultural spirit of the program.

Program Schedule

Sept. 17, Monday, Day 1

Arrive mid-evening

Casual group dinner at Dali Courtyard (Yunnan restaurant), Dongcheng

Sept. 18, Tuesday, Day 2

11:00am          Gather to visit the UChicago Center in Beijing, Haidian District

12:00pm          Lunch at the Center; meet Group A Shandong University student partners

2:00-4:45         Beijing Cross-Fertilization Workshop

In our globalized art world what is the relationship between cultural centers—and the peripheries—of artistic production and its consumption? Building on personal experience and knowledge, Professors Laura Letinsky and Geof Oppenheimer, along with local students and the UChicago MFA cohort, explored a range of contemporary strategies of critical engagement at the intersections of the personal and the social. This workshop facilitated cross-fertilization across geo-political and art communities, examining, for example, issues related to individuality, artistic will, originality and the copy, labor and capital, and post-modern, post-global iconicity.  This workshop informed the excursions for the students’ research trip within Beijing’s art community and organized and directed the dialogue that developed in relation to the art viewed, as well as with the artists, curators, and gallerists that the group engaged.

5:15                 Group dinner at Huixianju on Renmin University of China campus

7:00                 Geof Oppenheimer’s talk and Q&A at the Center: “People Problems”; followed by a reception. Oppenheimer spoke on his multimedia practice and its underlying theory, which is "is situated at the intersection of art and politics...Oppenheimer mobilizes [the] rift between the social and aesthetics...what is representable vs. what cannot be, the document vs. fiction, and issues of detention and agency."

Sept. 19, Wednesday, Day 3

Group visit to the Mutianyu Great Wall

Lunch at a village restaurant

Dinner at Pure Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant, Chaoyang area

Sept. 20, Thursday, Day 4

10:30am          Tour and discussion of Three Shadows Photography Art Centre 三影堂摄影艺术中心, Caochangdi Arts District, with Jillian Schultz, International Programs Director; met with Rong Rong (co-founder of Three Shadows with Inri; both top photographers). The visit to Three Shadows provided a rich first step into Beijing's contemporary art scene; the students were able to view a large exhibit on Che Guevara's personal snapshot photography, explore the Three Shadows library, and see the large facility's classroom space, darkroom, and second gallery area.

12:30pm          Lunch at Fodder Factory, Caochangdi District

Afternoon        Visits to Caochangdi art galleries, including Chambers Fine Art, Whitespace Beijing, and ShangART. Caochangdi's quiet, experimental atmosphere provided a counterpoint to the group's later explorations of the bustling and highly commercialized 798 arts district.

Sept. 21, Friday, Day 5

10:00am          Meeting and candid discussion with Philip Tinari, Director, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in 798 Arts District. Mr. Tinari shared the history of UCCA, one of 798's anchors; his views on the contemporary art scene in China; and the challenges of operating a large gallery/museum in Beijing.

Break for lunch and some browsing of galleries

1:30pm            Visit to the studio of Chen Xiaoyun (artist working in photography, video, installations, and painting) in Chaoyang district, near 798

Sept. 22, Saturday, Day 6

10:00am          Visit to 798 Arts District Galleries

Building on issues discussed in the workshop and visits to galleries the previous days, students further engaged Beijing’s art community through further viewing, discussion, and exploration of the gallery/studio district.

Building on connections shared via Li Yongan, a friend of a program participant and a professor in the Department of Art at the Beijing University of Technology College of Art and Design, the group spoke with artist Jin Zenghe and viewed some of his sculptures at his 798 studio.

Sept. 23, Sunday, Day 7

Free day

Independent visits to Panjiayuan “Dirt Market” or “Ghost Market” open-air antiques market, fabric markets, and Yaxiu Market

6:30pm            Dinner in Guomao area with students from College of Art and Design, Beijing University of Technology (connected by Li Yongan, professor at BUT; dinner put together by the staff of UChicago MFA alum John Kuhns’s China Hand Fund)

Sept. 24, Monday, Day 8

Visit to Shandong University, Jinan, Shandong Province via high-speed train for workshop afternoon

1:30pm            Laura Letinsky spoke on her work and showed slides to UChicago group and Shandong students, followed by a discussant

2:30                 Geof Oppenheimer spoke and showed slides, followed by Q&A

3:30                 Shandong University Group A student partners spoke about their experience with the group in Beijing, followed by Q&A

Return to Beijing with Group B Shandong University student partners

Sept. 25, Tuesday, Day 9

10:00am          Visit to the Central Academy of Fine Art, Wangjing

The students first explored a local art supply market and then took in the CAFA Art Museum, a new facility.

The group then visited the school's Experimental Art Department for a discussion of CAFA's practices and the state of advanced art education in China, led by Professor Yu Fei. The students heard briefly from Lu Shengzhong, chair of the department and a respected artist who puts a contemporary twist on traditional Chinese paper cutouts, and then viewed and discussed the video works of a younger artist and CAFA alum.

Sept. 26, Wednesday, Day 10

Free morning

Some group members attended a market tour and Chinese cooking class

3:00pm            Visit to Red Gate Residency studio site near 798, set up by Tang Zehui, program director. Beijing's venerable Red Gate Gallery has a slate of artist-in-residence programs, and the students were able to tour one of the residency studio sites.

Sept. 27, Thursday, Day 11

Free morning

Group B Shandong University student partners returned to Shandong

Some group members attended a food anthropology session in the hutongs

3:30pm            Tour of the US Embassy and its art collection, Liangmaqiao area

Laura Letinsky delivered an evening talk about her work at a meeting of the Asia Society, hosted by Holly Chang.

Sept. 28, Friday, Day 12

9:30am            Visit to Ai Weiwei’s FAKE Design Studio, Caochangdi District. The group explored some of the spaces at the studio and was able to meet with Ai for a discussion of practice and politics.

1:30pm            Laura Letinsky spoke on her work at Peking University; her talk was put together by faculty and graduate students from the PKU School of Arts

Sept. 29, Saturday, Day 13

12:30               Board bus to airport for return to Chicago