Curating China

Forthcoming 2021
How does art make the world? ecoART CHINA poses this question of arts depicting the land- and city-scape in 21st-century China. Artworks by a brush-and-ink painter, a cut paper artist, photographers, new media artists, and video artists capture and convey struggles with the capitalist-scientific rationalities that have prefigured the end of the world; critically, they also embody the emotions and imagination lodged in and about the natural and built environment that generate a hopeful sense of possibility for renewal. 

The curatorial project probes the ways in which arts in China now engage perceptual reverie over fire, water, metal, earth, wood. Those same "five elements" (wuxing 五行) of the landscape in imperial-era correlative thinking can better be understood as the "five phases," transfiguring and melding into each other. The "five phases" are the fluid lines on which this exhibition will be curated. 

An ecological crisis associated with each elemental phase is the focus of curatorial attention: air pollution and the burning of fossil fuels (fire); river pollution (water); deforestation (wood); garbage mountains (earth); mining (metal). Grasping the historical and ecological complexity of these crises is critical. Even more importantly, our curatorial strategy seeks to awake sensitivity towards constant environmental change, and return to a sense of the undifferentiated in the differentiated. It maintains an openness to how the perpetual transfiguration of the five phases moves us -- emotionally, thoughtfully, imaginatively-- and in doing so, encourages us to gain new perspectives and to commit to seeing the planet and possibiltiies for environmental justice in a new light. Rather than embracing human-centric preoccupations of the anthropocene or falling back on mystification of Chinese landscape painting theories and "traditions," we instead think about arts making the world in China now as a form of ecology itself.

MAKING THE WORLD: Science and Painting in Modern China
(October 2018): refereed online exhibition.
How do pictures make the world? In 1907 the Chinese fiction writer and social critic Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881-1936) essayed the thought that making the world depended on attunement towards beauty’s emotional vibrancy and on an imaginative frequency to scientific thought, both. This curatorial project asks after pictures made mostly during Lu Xun’s lifetime, in turn-of-the-century China, mostly by brush-and-ink painters, but also by embroiderers, photographers, cartoonists, taxidermists, map-makers, and others who worked self-consciously within the arts and sciences, popular or academic. Their pictures carry within them their own struggles with the rationalities of science, as well as emotions and imagination, to make the world. Still, as curators of each of the six thematic sections of the exhibition observe, the pictures also escape the hands of their makers; they are thrown back into the flow of time through the questions they pose of us now, questions that we hope will prompt us to see and sense nature and each other differently, and in doing so, to make our own world from a newly aware and nuanced perspective.


Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review no. 15 (March 2015): open-access e-journal
The ink brushes of the painters Chen Shizeng 陳師曾 (1876–1923), Liu Kuiling 劉奎齡 (1885–1967), and Gao Jianfu 高劍父 (1879–1951) were employed as tools of the nation in early twentieth-century China. Among each artist’s oeuvre were paintings dedicated to the welfare of the country—Chen Shizeng commemorated a week-long exhibition for flood relief; Liu Kuiling painted the Boxer Rebellion, which he had witnessed firsthand in Tianjin, from memory years later, during the Second Sino-Japanese War; and Gao Jianfu famously depicted skulls crying over the nation’s fate at about the same time. Yet any clear expression of a radical idealism about the new republic in these artists’ ink paintings was tempered by a tentative and self-conscious exploration of new ways of seeing. By synthesizing a “universal” scientific gaze with their trained vision as artists, Chen, Liu, and Gao created pictures that encouraged their viewers to cross the boundaries and binaries that would come to define guohua, or “national painting”: East versus West, oil versus ink, modernity versus tradition, painting versus graphic arts, and elite versus folk. It was through the scientific gaze of these brush-and-ink artists that political idealism and learning came to cooperate, and through their paintings that possibilities for news ways of seeing the nation emerged.

This Cross-Currents photo essay explores these artists’ extended moment of synthesis and experimentation—at the interstices of science and ink painting—at the beginning of the twentieth century. It does so with an eye to each artist’s immediate visual culture and to the bodies of knowledge with which they were respectively engaged, just then in the process of becoming the modern sciences of ethnography, zoology, and entomology. Like guohua and the nation itself from the 1900s through the 1920s, these sciences were fluid in definition.

University of Alberta Gallery A
Co-curated with University of Alberta students
April 5-July 14, 2012
How did modern ways of making paintings and prints -- from mechanical reproduction to creative appropriation -- emerge from the ink painter's studio, enter the public sphere, and help shape people's identities and lives in China during the late imperial era (i.e., the 18th and 19th centuries)? The exhibition catalogue explores this question by considering brush-and-ink paintings from teh University of Alberta Mactaggart Art Collection in the context of woodblock-printed books, sketchbooks, and artist's tools such as inkstones and inksticks.

Edited by Lisa Claypool, with essays contributed by De-nin D. Lee and Nixi Cura. 159 pages, 89 colour illustrations. Includes a catalogue of inscriptions, signatures, and seals (Chinese and English).

University of Alberta FAB Gallery
Co-curated with Maria Whiteman
June 19-July 14, 2012
We are surrounded by copies. Every day we encounter fakes, doppelgangers, simulations, likenesses, facsimilies. Copies enclose us and liberate us; we follow and deviate from them. Copies are embodied in store-front mannequins, Warhol's soup cans, the "lagoon" at West Edmonton Mall. Copies of stell and concrete shape Las Vegas, Dubai, Shenzhen. In short, the political and the poetic collide in the copy. Wo what happens when copies become singular, imitation a performance, and the facsimile an image for thought?

Reed College Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery
Co-curated with Stephanie Snyder, Reed College students
April 7-June 7, 2009

Cleaners Gallery, The Ace Hotel, Portland Oregon
Co-curated with Stephanie Snyder, Reed College students
Pop-up exhibition November 2009


China Urban Blog edited by the China Urban Collective, a resource on the CHINA URBAN exhibition at the Douglas F Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, Portland, Oregon, Spring 2009
China Design Now blog edited by Carl Alviani, Lisa Claypool, Rob Curedale, Amy Gendler, John Jay, Brian Libby, Abby Margolis, Lou Yongqi, and Maribeth Graybill, a resource on the CHINA DESIGN NOW exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon Fall 2009
Shanghai Modern blog, edited by the China Urban Collective, a resource on the CHINA VIOLENT event at The Cleaners, Ace Hotel, Portland, Oregon, Fall 2009

Exhibition Archives : Museums Contemporary and Imperial
see also links to museum permanent collections