Interview: Wu Hung, Part 2

This is the second of two parts. Find Part 1 here.

Professor Wu Hung hosting the Director’s Seminar, March 29th, 2011. Photograph by Nita Roberts.

Robert Brennan: That might segue into another issue we wanted to discuss: the relationship between curating and teaching. We were curious about the role of teaching recent art in China and in Chinese universities, and to what extent they’ve gotten involved in making that part of the curriculum, part of university life, and whether universities have relationships with museums like they do in the States.

Wu Hung: I probably don’t know the whole picture because everything moves so fast in China. In my day there was no art history. My department was the only art history department in the entire country, and my class had ten people – that’s it. Art history in China was then basically in museums with connoisseurship. Only from my generation did people begin to study art history. Many people still don’t know what it is today. But now most universities have a particular department – they don’t call it art history, they call it the “discipline of art” or “art studies” or something like that. It includes art history and aesthetics, studio art and design. Both practice and curatorial, conservation. Somewhat like here, plus painting, printmaking, filmmaking. At some universities [in the United States] there’s a combination of studio art [and art history], but [in China] it’s more: anything having to do with visual art. [In the Chinese] model, art history is just one of several things. It’s not as prominent as it is here. Here art history is a pretty powerful humanistic discipline and very influential, in a way. But there it’s really just one of many possibilities. There are some schools that try to push art history. Some people have started here and now return to China and try to create that model.

So that’s one kind [of model] within the general, large universities – these comprehensive kinds of university settings. Then [there are] the art academies: you know, like Zhejiang, now called the China National Academy of Art, Art Academy, or the Beijing Central Academy. These kinds of academies also have [something] like a school of the humanities within the art academies. The art academies, in the past ten years, have grown into humungous institutions. In my day the Central Academy of Fine Arts—I graduated there—only had 150 students, 200 teachers and staff members. So it was tiny… But right now the same school every year takes in about 1500 or 1800 students of different kinds: painting, drawing, new media, including conservation, museum studies, and art history. All of these schools are just becoming bigger and bigger in China. Quite chaotic, I have to say. But there’s also a lot of energy. There are a lot of young people who want to study the arts, art history, or something. So again it’s quite different from here. They still need a lot of teachers. You can imagine, when you have a lot of students, you need good teachers from good schools. So different universities try to attract the teachers, people studying abroad.

RB: And are there people writing on art since the late ‘70s in an academic way, as an established practice? Or do you think that’s more in journals and criticism? Continue reading “Interview: Wu Hung, Part 2”

Interview: Wu Hung, Part 1

The Institute of Fine Arts was extremely fortunate to have Professor Wu Hung of the University of Chicago as a Kirk Varnedoe Visiting Professor during the Spring 2011 semester. The following interview was conducted by a group of students who participated in his seminar on contemporary Chinese art: Robert Brennan, Marci Kwon, Dianne Nelson, Holly Shen, Carrie Wladis, and Alison Young. Laura Dickey and Kevie Yang also took the seminar and provided support for the event, though they were unable to attend. The interview was transcribed by Robert Brennan; an edited version follows. This is the first of two posts.

Robert Brennan: The first thing we wanted to ask is what it’s like to work with museums in China, and if there are differences between working with museums there and working with museums here.  In general is there anything that comes to mind in that regard?

Wu Hung: Chinese museums… I was part of [that field] a long time ago, before I came to this country. That was in the ‘70s, so it was a very different situation.  Now I think it’s changed tremendously, but that time was very interesting.  It was during the Cultural Revolution.  We were assigned jobs with the museum.  I was in the Forbidden City.  Actually it was the largest museum in the country, called the Palace Museum… That museum is quite different from other museums because it’s an architectural complex, and there are people who study architecture and renovation, and there are the archives from the imperial house.  There are many divisions.  So I was part of the younger staff, first in painting and calligraphy, and secondly in bronze and stone carvings…very interesting, very traditional.  And although it was during the Cultural Revolution, inside the Forbidden City it was timeless, almost.  Of course we read the newspaper, heard Mao’s speeches, but there was this timeless quality. You close the gate, and you really don’t know which century [it is] — you’re there.

Continue reading “Interview: Wu Hung, Part 1”