Speakers and Papers

2013 TEAC – Art about Art in Asia

Jerome Silbergeld, Princeton University, Department of Art and Archaeology

Abstract: Chinese art historians sometimes try to date early paintings by the architecture in them, but Chinese paintings of architecture are full of complications: uncertainty about what early architecture really looked like and the possible range of architectural variation at that time, uncertainty about whether painters of the genre really understood real architecture, negative attitudes toward the genre of painted architecture, and so forth. This presentation will explore a number of these troublesome but fascinating problems.


Li-ling Hsiao, UNC-Chapel Hill, Department of Asian Studies

Abstract: This paper investigates the acclaimed late Ming publisher Min Qiji’s 閔齊伋 (b. 1580) illustration of the scene “Yingying Listens to Zither” (“Yingying tingqin” 鶯鶯聽琴) that he printed in 1640 for the famous Yuan play The Story of the Western Wing (Xixiang ji 西廂記) by Wang Shifu 王實甫 (fl. 14th century). This illustration invokes several important issues of representation that allow us to grasp how meanings are suggested through pictorial devices and forms. This visual representation of music is a perfect example to reveal how concrete images could embody abstract meanings through pictorial arrangements. In order to show Min’s innovation in presenting zither music in visual terms, this study compares his illustration to various illustrations to the same scene included in the other late Ming publications of the play and to the famous painting Listening to Zither (Tingqin tu 聽琴圖) by the highly celebrated emperor/painter Huizong of the Song dynasty 宋徽宗 (1082-1135), which is considered one of the best examples in rendering zither music in pictorial terms.


Lillian Lan-Ying Tseng, New York University, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

Abstract: This paper explores the art of flower arrangement and its pictorial representation in later imperial China. It first discusses how vases overtook cut flowers as the main focus of appreciation and how antiques, preferably bronze vessels, won the highest rank in vases. It then examines how painters captured the new aesthetics in the surface of painting. It pays special attention to how antiquarians, who favored the rubbings of ancient bronze vessels, encouraged new visual products that combined rubbed vases with painted flowers.


Hans Thomsen, University of Zurich, Art History Institute

Abstract: The presentation will be based on an unusual set of paintings that attempts to depict music in a two-dimensional format. The paintings were created by Hirai Renzan (1789-1886) and Nagahara Baien (?-1898) and are presently in the collections of the Denver Art Museum and the Princeton Museum of Art. The paintings feature beautiful women playing exotic musical instruments in the interiors of exclusive Edo restaurants. While the subject matter of the paintings and their compositions are based on older Japanese and East Asian visual traditions, the paintings mark important innovations within Japanese paintings.

The two sisters who painted these works were active within the cultural circles of mid-19th century Japan and were well known as calligraphers and painters, as well as advocates for a new form of Chinese music that had recently entered the country. This form of music, the Minshingaku, was originally taught by Chinese émigré masters, and later by the sisters in their own music schools. Called the “female painter sages” of their time, the popularity and unusual background of the sisters made them compelling spokespersons for the new form of music within the cultural world of their day.

The innovation of the paintings is centered on the use of music as the central subject matter. Not only are exotic Chinese musical instruments depicted, but the sound of music transcends the two-dimensional paintings in an exercise of synthesia, in a formal unity between the two arts of painting and music. Although the paintings are based on older traditions, the sounds within these works are decidedly new: not Japanese nor traditional, but Chinese and recently imported. Nor are they general: the paintings depict specific sounds (down to the note book), produced by famous instruments, and played within specific spaces. The painters thus effective combine the familiar with the exotic to invite their audience into an experience with multiple associations, of listening to exotic music within privileged gatherings in a restaurant along the Sumida River.


Chelsea Foxwell, University of Chicago, Department of Art History

Abstract: Amidst fierce debates about the status of Asian immigration in the American West, the years 1914-1921 paradoxically saw the stunning success of America’s first major Japanese-born film star:  Sessue Hayakawa (1889-1973). In 1918, the actor’s rise to fame in the silent pictures culminated in the establishment of his own California production company, Haworth Pictures, which afforded him full control over the content of his roles and films. Now freed from Asian typecasting imposed against his will, one of the first works he produced was The Dragon Painter (1919), the tale of an old Japanese painter (Kano Indara) who sought an heir for his craft, offering the hand of his only daughter Ume (played by Hayakawa’s real-life wife, Tsuru Aoki [1892-1961]) in return. The resulting saga stars Hayakawa as the young painter Tatsu while counterbalancing the classic themes of genius and training, nature and artifice, love and death.

Set in Southern California but meant to evoke Japan, the film takes full visual advantage of its status as a picture about picturing, but the layeredness of this “art about art” goes still further. The film was based on a novella published in 1906 by Mary McNeill Fenollosa (1865-1954), the second wife of Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), the pioneering American collector and historian of Japanese art. The book in turn references Ernest Fenollosa’s experience with Kano Hōgai (1828-88), the heirless Japanese painter whom he idealized both as the last great painter of the old era and as the hope for the future of modern painting in Japan and beyond. Furthermore, The Dragon Painter was produced seven years after the death of Tsuru’s adoptive father T. Aoki (1854-1912), a California-based painter who may have authored the large painting that appears near the film’s conclusion. This paper evaluates the multiple perspectives on art in and around The Dragon Painter in light of Japan and California (or America)’s proud yet precarious position in the dynamic international field of early twentieth-century artistic production.


Sunglim Kim, Dartmouth College, Department of Art History

Abstract: In Korean art, chaekgeori is a kind of still life painting of three dimensional art objects, including books, ceramics, antique bronze vessels, exotic curiosities, and scholastic paraphenarlia, placed in multi-panel shelves.  Arising in the 18th century, and appropriated from the duobaoge or Treasure Wall in Beijing’s Forbidden City, chaekgeori painting was Korea’s translation of three-dimensional art objects in architectural settings into two-dimensional paintings.  The intent was not the mere representation of precious art objects; instead, the painters used three-dimensional objects as vehicles to transmit ideas and messages related to the scholarly cultivation, material status, and personal desires of the art patrons.  These messages were transmitted through compositional/stylistic choices, the selection of objects, and the traditional “painting reading” or dokhwa that intimately unites visual and textual media in East Asian literati culture.  This paper will explore the messages inherent in chaekgeori painting, and how they reflected dramatic changes in Korean material culture during the late Joseon period.