East Asia by the Book! CEAS Author Talks: Wu Hung - A Dialogue on Three Recent Publications on Chinese Art - Claudia Brittenham

Monday, May 1, 2023 - 5:00pm - 6:30pm
Event Presenter/Author: 
Wu Hung

Wu Hung will discuss Chinese Art and Dynastic Time, Spatial Dunhuang: Experiencing the Mogao Caves, and The Full-Length Mirror: A Global Visual History. He will be joined in conversation by Claudia Brittenham.

Presented in partnership with the University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies

This event will be held in person at The Seminary Co-op. At this time, masks are required for in-store events.


About Chinese Art and Dynastic Time: Throughout Chinese history, dynastic time—the organization of history through the lens of successive dynasties—has been the dominant mode of narrating the story of Chinese art, even though there has been little examination of this concept in discourse and practice until now. Chinese Art and Dynastic Time uncovers how the development of Chinese art was described in its original cultural, sociopolitical, and artistic contexts, and how these narratives were interwoven with contemporaneous artistic creation. In doing so, leading art historian Wu Hung opens up new pathways for the consideration of not only Chinese art, but also the whole of art history. Wu Hung brings together ten case studies, ranging from the third millennium BCE to the early twentieth century CE, and spanning ritual and religious art, painting, sculpture, the built environment, and popular art in order to examine the deep-rooted patterns in the historical conceptualization of Chinese art. Elucidating the changing notions of dynastic time in various contexts, he also challenges the preoccupation with this concept as the default mode in art historical writing. This critical investigation of dynastic time thus constitutes an essential foundation to pursue new narrative and interpretative frameworks in thinking about art history. Remarkable for the sweep and scope of its arguments and lucid style, Chinese Art and Dynastic Time probes the roots of the collective imagination in Chinese art and frees us from long-held perspectives on how this art should be understood.

About Spatial DunhuangConstructed over a millennium from the fourth to fourteenth centuries CE near Dunhuang, an ancient border town along the Silk Road in northwest China, the Mogao Caves comprise the largest, most continuously created, and best-preserved treasure trove of Buddhist art in the world. Previous overviews of the art of Dunhuang have traced the caves' unilinear history. This book examines the caves from the perspective of space, treating them as physical and historical sites that can be approached, entered, and understood sensually. It prioritizes the actual experiences of the people of the past who built and used the caves. Five spatial contexts provide rich material for analysis: Dunhuang as a multicultural historic place; the Mogao Cave complex as an evolving entity; the interior space of caves; interaction of the visual program with architectural space; and pictorial space within wall paintings that draws viewers into an otherworldly time. With its novel approach to this repository of religious art, Spatial Dunhuang will be a must-read for anyone interested in Buddhist art and for visitors to Dunhuang.

About The Full-Length MirrorThis book tells two stories about the full-length mirror. One story, through time and space, crisscrosses the globe to introduce a broad range of historical actors: kings and slaves, artists and writers, merchants and craftsmen, courtesans, and commoners. The other story explores the connections among objects, painting, and photography, the full-length mirror providing a new perspective on historical artifacts and their images in art and visual culture. The Full-Length Mirror represents a new kind of global art history in which “global” is understood in terms of both geography and visual medium, a history encompassing Europe, Asia, and North America, and spanning over two millennia from the fourth century BCE to the early twentieth century.

About the author: Wu Hung has published widely on both traditional and contemporary Chinese art. His interest in both traditional and modern/contemporary Chinese art has led him to experiment with different ways to integrate these conventionally separate phases into new kinds of art historical narratives, as exemplified by his Monumentality in Early Chinese Art and Architecture (1995), The Double Screen: Medium and Representation of Chinese Pictorial Art (1996), Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square: the Creation of a Political Space (2005), A Story of Ruins: Presence and Absence in Chinese Art and Visual Culture (2012), Zooming In: Histories of Photography in China (2016), Space in Art History (2017), and Feminine Space in Chinese Painting (2019). Several of his ongoing projects follow this direction to explore the interrelationship between art medium, pictorial image, and architectural space, the dialectical relationship between absence and presence in Chinese art and visual culture, and the relationship between art discourse and practice. Wu Hung is Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia, an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and sits on the boards and advisory committees of many research institutes and museums in the United States and China.

About the interlocutor: Claudia Brittenham's research focuses on the art of ancient Mesoamerica, with particular attention to the ways that the materiality of art and the politics of style contribute to our understanding of the ontology of images. Her most recent book is Unseen Art: Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica (2023), which explores problems of visibility and the status of images in Mesoamerica. Ranging from carvings on the undersides of Aztec sculptures, to Maya lintels, and buried Olmec offerings, it examines the distance between ancient experiences of works of art and the modern practice of museum display. She is also the author of The Murals of Cacaxtla: The Power of Painting in Ancient Mexico (2015); the co-author with Mary Miller of The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court: Reflections on the Murals of Bonampak (2013), and with Stephen Houston and colleagues, a co-author of Veiled Brightness: A History of Ancient Maya Color (2009).

Event Location: 
Seminary Co-op
5751 S Woodlawn Ave
Chicago, IL 60615