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Art Academies in China: Global Histories and Institutional Practices (CHINACADEMY)


Kunsthistorisches Institut
Abteilung Ostasien


Wissenschaftliche MitarbeiterInnen:

Xiaoya Fang

Xiao (Amanda) Ju

Studentische Hilfskraft:

Lei Yu 


ERC Consolidator Grant, Nr. 101043504

01.09.2023 — 31.08.2028

Project no. 101043504 – ERC-COG-2021

Art academies played an essential role in shaping modern art in China. They were the sites where European methods of art education were introduced; where the social role of the modern artist was defined; where the importance of traditional art forms and training methods was negotiated; where art history as a modern field was established; and where political and ideological changes in artistic practices were first implemented. Today, art academies incorporate laboratories of innovation as well as academic curricula inherited from the socialist period. Thus, they are emblematic of the dynamics within the Chinese cultural sphere and society at large, and of the tensions between a rapid globalization on the one hand and the preservation of cultural heritage and national identity discourses on the other.

By studying art academies, their global histories and institutional practices, as the most significant actors in modern Chinese art, CHINACADEMY offers new understandings of the aesthetic, social, and political conditions of artistic creation in modern and contemporary China. Tracing the transnational connections to Japan, France, the Soviet Union, and other regions, it shows how institutional structures and artistic practices were adapted to the requirements of Chinese society in acts of cultural translation. It questions existing narratives of modernization, conservation, and political influence in art by highlighting personal affiliations, the agency of institutions, issues of conflict, and gendered experiences. These will be excavated through oral histories as well as archival records. By stressing the importance of academic and traditionalist practices, CHINACADEMY also decentres the paradigm of modernism that is still prevalent in global histories of modern art. It thereby proposes a new perspective for a global art history that pushes beyond Eurocentric as well as Sinocentric narratives.

Three academies will serve as case studies: The Central Academy of Fine Arts (Zhongyang meishu xueyuan, CAFA) in Beijing, the China Academy of Art (Zhongguo meishu xueyuan, CAA) in Hangzhou, and the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts (Guangzhou meishu xueyuan) in Guangzhou. CAFA and CAA, are the two leading institutions in Chinese art education. CHINACADEMY will take the Guangzhou Academy of Art as a case study for the work of art academies with a regional outreach and the relations between provincial centres and the cultural metropoles within China. All three academies are shaped, to varying degrees, by complex global connections, most importantly with Japan, France and other Western European countries, as well as the Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations. These entanglements also impacted conceptions of Chinese ink painting (perceived as a national art form since the early twentieth century) and its integration into the academic system. How ink painting was taught at the academies, the debates and conflicts over the question of its significance, and training methods used across different academies will be the subject of a separate case study.


Case Study 1: The Central Academy of Fine Arts – connections to Eastern Europe – histories of realism

The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing is today the leading art school in China, and it has a strong tradition in French as well as Soviet academic practices. During the socialist period, it was the leading art school to shape socialist realist art in China. The project will therefore combine an investigation of the history of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, of histories of realism at CAFA and other academies, and of the receptions and translations of Eastern European teaching practices, theoretical texts, and artworks. Key issues to be investigated include: Translations of institutional structures, curricula, and materials from Japan, Western Europe, and the Soviet Union; modern Chinese conceptions of the term “realism”; the shaping of artistic genealogies within CAFA and its predecessor schools as well as beyond; how the academy adapted to changes in the political system, crises, and political campaigns; and how legacies of academic and socialist realism were addressed in the reform era.


Case Study 2: The China Academy of Art – connections to Western Europe – histories of modernism

The China Academy of Art in Hangzhou was founded in 1928 as a National Academy of Arts.The project will study how the French-trained faculty adapted the Beaux-Arts model to the Chinese situation, how they interpreted European and Chinese art histories, and how their work can be traced through later generations teaching at various art schools. A special focus will be on modernist practices. CAA also has a strong tradition in Chinese ink painting, especially under the directorship of Pan Tianshou (1897–1971, director 1944–1947 and 1959–1967). This case study will serve to analyse how artists working in modernist or traditionalist styles navigated the political and institutional changes brought about by the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) or the implementation of the Soviet system in the 1950s. It will trace curricular, personal, and artistic continuities from the Republican era into the late twentieth century, but also disruptions and debates.


Case Study 3: Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art – connections to Japan

CHINACADEMY will take the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts as a case study for the work of what might be called art academies with a regional focus. The project will investigate the relations between the national metropoles and provincial centres on the one hand and the role of regional traditions in the work of the academies on the other. The latter are particularly strong in Guangzhou, which has a long history as a trade port and close artistic ties to Japanese art centres. During the Republican period, Guangzhou was also an important centre for left-wing woodcut artists, and this became part of the school tradition. CHINACADEMY will study how local schools and artistic movements with their global connections shaped the work at the academy and which role regional identities played in the classrooms and the academy’s self-representation. It will investigate the relations between local characteristics and cross-regional networks, and especially the impact of national administrative directives and cultural politics on local practices.


Case Study 4: Chinese ink painting and its histories in the academies

Although the art academies were founded to institutionalize a modern art education based on European and Japanese models, ink painting as a national art form was at an early point considered an important element in the curriculum. The project will trace the history of ink painting education across Chinese art academies from the 1910s into the 1990s. It will study the debates about inherited teaching practices such as copying earlier paintings, the role of drawing and discourses of realism, and the positioning of ink painting and calligraphy as regards abstraction, installation, and conceptual art. A special focus will be on the question of how receptions of art and art history from other world regions shaped interpretations of Chinese art historiography and the medium of ink painting in what can be called a translated historiography.