Does art historian Jonathan Fineberg ever let up?
The University of Illinois prof is now in China with UI prof Gary Xu. Both are guests of the "Reshaping History" exhibition at the National Convention Center in Beijing.
Fineberg tells me "Reshaping History" is the largest exhibition of contemporary Chinese art in history and the largest survey of the art of the last decade in China ever mounted.
The only non-Chinese speaker at the opening ceremony, Fineberg said it was covered widely by the Chinese art press, which also published pictures of him in the studios of many leading artists.
About 1,000 of the most influential artists, museum people, dealers, critics historians and collectors in China attended the opening. At the ceremony, a symphony orchestra performed a piece written for the event, and a commissioned film was screened.
"It was quite an event," Fineberg said via e-mail.
Over the past few years, Fineberg has brought to the United States five of the leading contemporary artists in China, to deliver their first lectures in the U.S. They were:
— Hai Bo, who spoke in 2006 at the Illinois at the Phillips in Washington, D.C.
— Zhang Xiaogang, who delivered in 2007 the Jerrold Ziff Distinguished Lecture in Modern Art, at Krannert Art Museum, Champaign. He was accompanied by Leng Lin, now director of Beijing Commune and Pace Beijing, the most important contemporary art gallery in China, according to Fineberg, and the great Chinese collector Nie Rongqing.
— In 2008 Fang Lijun spoke as the Ziff lecturer at Krannert.
— And this past spring, Yue Minjun gaver the Ziff lecture at Krannert and also spoke at the Phillips in D.C.
This fall Fineberg will bring to campus Wang Guangyi. Fineberg and Xu hope to bring here in early 2011 Cui Xiuwen, another major Chinese artist.
I have heard most of the artists speak, and their talks and PowerPoint presentations were fascinating. Xu acts as translator for them.
Xu, a professor of Asian Languages and Cultures, is now translating into English the letters of Zhang Xiaogang, and he and Fineberg are working on a series of publications on key contemporary Chinese artists.
The third edition of Fineberg’s widely used textbook, "Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being," will be released in early July. It's been expanded and revised to include a new section on Chinese contemporary art. I bought an earlier edition and am a fan of Fineberg’s writing because of his knowledge, insights and especially for the clarity of his language.
Another outstanding member of the UI art history faculty is African-art specialist Dana Rush, who was just awarded a Fulbright for work in Africa.
"She does amazing work on Africa and has been very helpful to me over the past couple of years," Krannert Center engagement director Samuel Smith told me via e-mail. "We have considered more projects than we can accomplish and I think she is one of many unsung heros in (the College of Fine and Applied Arts) working on neglected elements of the cultural landscape."
Smith provided a summary of Rush’s project, "In Remembrance of Slavery: Tchamba Slave Spirits in Vodun Art and Thought."
"The export of men, women, and children from Africa to the Americas lasted more than 400 years and touched most communities in Africa, directly or indirectly. Scholars now know a great deal about the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but most of the sources are European. Africa itself is an overlooked resource within which memories of the external and internal slave trades persist.
"People living along coastal Bénin and Togo actively interrogate themselves in an ongoing attempt to understand the multiple roles their ancestors played in the slave trade, as either the sellers or the enslaved. In this region, the Vodun spirit complex known as Tchamba has been critical in the maintenance and proliferation of histories and memories of domestic slavery, which have been preserved in shrines, temple paintings, religious performances, songs, proverbs, oral histories and literature."
Through interviews with local populations and collaborative work with Beninese and Togolese scholars, Rush will explore the numerous histories and memories of domestic slavery in the region, maintained to the present by descendants of those whose ancestors owned domestic slaves and by those whose ancestors were domestic slaves.
Vodun is the traditional religious system in southern Bénin and Togo organized around a single divine creator and hundreds of spirits who govern the forces of nature and society, according to Rush.