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Chinese Object Study Workshops (COSW) is a program that provides graduate students in Chinese art history with an immersive experience in the study of an object. The workshops help participants develop the skills necessary for working with objects, introduce them to conservation issues not readily encountered in typical graduate art history curricula, and familiarize them with important North American museum collections.

Participants in each workshop spend the week engaged in intensive object study, discussion, and research with a small group of other graduate students, two faculty members, and curators and conservators from the host museum. Student participants are required to complete assigned reading in advance of the workshop. Afterward, they are expected to complete a research project based on an object or objects they encountered. Toward this project, participants will first make a presentation via Zoom to fellow workshop students and workshop leaders (and possibly invited guests). The leaders will critique the object-related research. Participants will follow up with a written report, which will be shared with the host museum. Depending on the quality of the paper, students will be encouraged to submit their work for publication.

The program is open to students formally enrolled in a graduate art history program (at the time that the workshop is held) at a North American or European university who are pursuing an advanced degree in Chinese art. Graduate students from other art history–related programs and/or working closely with Chinese art objects are welcome to apply. Applicants may be of any nationality and may apply for more than one workshop. A transportation stipend, lodging, and some meal support will be provided.

2023 Workshops

Workshop One: Mapping Process

Host: Seattle Art Museum

Workshop Leaders:

  • Peter Sturman, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Lei Xue, Oregon State University
  • Foong Ping, Seattle Art Museum

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 12–16, 2023

Inherent to Chinese painting’s and calligraphy’s reliance on the brush for mark-making is the revealing of process. This is particularly true of calligraphy, for which rules regarding stroke order and direction together with agreed-upon practices not only allow but encourage a knowledgeable viewer’s reimagining of the writing’s unfolding. Process may be less pervasive an aspect of appreciation of a painting, but it remains an integral element, traceable to a degree that is dependent on a painting’s genre and style. More importantly, even in those works that do not forefront mark-making, the process by which a painting takes shape is largely visible to trained eyes. Knowledge of how paintings took physical shape is not a part of most art historians’ education, but it no doubt played a significant role in the traditional reception of painting, just as it did for calligraphy. In this workshop, students will look at artwork through the lens of process to the degree that it can be reconstituted. Process, in our purview, is initially a consideration of decisions, methods, and habits made by the artist, but we will also consider the processes by which later participants, primarily in the form of colophons and seals, added their “marks.”

Workshop Two: Interrogating Chinese Ceramics

Host: National Museum of Asian Art

Workshop Leaders:

  • Stacey Pierson, SOAS University of London
  • Sabrina Rastelli, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice
  • Jan Stuart, National Museum of Asian Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, August 14–18, 2023

Ceramics as objects are traditionally evaluated using methods from art history, archaeology, and materials science. While these methods have their merits, they tend to be used in isolation and thus provide a somewhat narrow view of the object concerned. They are also mapped onto the objects without taking account of the investigator’s response to the objects, which is what leads to the development of research questions. Recently, however, critical methods borrowed from literary studies that ask broader, more probing and experiential questions about content have been applied to objects, including ceramics. One such method, known as “annotation,” enables investigators to interrogate and evaluate objects from multiple perspectives, including that of the viewer. Typically, an annotated approach develops a structured exploration of the object’s features as well as the viewer’s response to it, noting observations and impressions while directly engaging with the object and generating staged interrogations.

In this workshop, students will apply the annotation method to a selection of Chinese ceramics primarily from the Tang to Qing dynasties in the Freer Gallery’s collection. Students will learn how to observe, interrogate, and handle ceramics with purpose, while in the process developing knowledge of ceramic production, design, history, and function. Students will be guided through the process and also introduced to staff in the Conservation and Scientific Research department as another opportunity to learning about methods for investigating ceramics. Students will create logbooks with annotated entries on selected objects included in the workshop and summaries of discussions arising from their evaluations. These will form the foundation of individual research projects that will be identified by each student on the last day of the workshop and subsequently completed by each student.

Workshops for 2024 are forthcoming.

2022 Workshops

Workshop: Intermediality

Host: The Art Institute of Chicago

Workshop Leaders:

  • Jeffrey Moser, Brown University
  • Ching-fei Shih, National Taiwan University
  • Colin Mackenzie, The Art Institute of Chicago

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 20–24, 2022

The workshop will revolve around the theme of intermediality. Deploying such heuristics as skeuomorphy and technical style, we will excavate traces of cross-media transfer that are essential to reconstructing both the development of art-making techniques and the systems of value in which these techniques were embedded. Our focus will be objets d’art (qiwu)—bronzes, jade, ceramics, lacquerware, and so forth—but we will also consider the connections between these media and the art of painting. Particular attention will be devoted to molding, printing, rubbing, and other technologies of impression that facilitated and shaped exchanges between two-dimensional and three-dimensional arts. Phenomena that frequently echo intersections between multiple media, such as archaism and ornamentation, will also be examined. The temporal scope of the workshop will be broad, so as to ensure consideration of the full range of technologies implicated in the relationship between ancient bronze and jade prototypes and the archaistic emulations of these prototypes made in later times. Highlights will include the AIC’s outstanding collections of ancient jades and bronzes, Yaozhou ceramics of the Song-Yuan era, and monochromatic porcelains from the imperial kilns at Jingdezhen.

2022 Convening

Host: National Museum of Asian Art

Dates: Thursday–Saturday, August 25–27, 2022

The convening is a forum that brings together alumni who participated in Chinese Object Study Workshops between 2015 to 2022 with some of the previous workshop leaders and members of the steering committee and staff at the National Museum of Asian Art. The professional gathering of workshop alumni, professors, and curators creates a network that will continue to support the work of the participants. The event begins with a keynote speech (by Professor Jonathan Hay, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, “Nothing Special: On Non-Celebrity Ceramics”) on the evening of August 25th, and the following two full days of the convening provides attendees with a combined experience of object study, critiqued paper presentations, and career-advancement training.

2019 Workshops

Workshop One: Chinese Textiles

Host: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Workshop Leaders:
• Mei Mei Rado, Parsons School of Design
• Yuhang Li, University of Wisconsin-Madison
• Pengliang Lu, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 10–14, 2019

How should we position textiles in Chinese art history? What is the relationship between textiles and other media such as ink painting, mural, sculpture, and various decorative arts? How do we begin to approach a piece of brocade or tapestry? This workshop will survey the major types of textiles in China from the tenth to the nineteenth century and introduce students to the analytical languages, methods, and issues for studying Chinese textiles, a subject rarely taught in university art history programs.

Drawing on the excellent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we will focus on silks and examine a range of woven and embroidered flat textiles and garments. Students will first learn to identify the material components and fabricating techniques of selected examples, an indispensable step for further analyzing their design, function, and socio-cultural significance. Through close analysis of these examples, we will explore the multivalent roles of textiles in Chinese art and material culture—as artistic mediums, sign-bearing objects, structural and performative elements in religious and secular spaces, and social agent.

Workshop Two: Objects in Archaeological Context

Host: Royal Ontario Museum

Workshop Leaders:
• Haicheng Wang, University of Washington
• Tianlong Jiao, Denver Art Museum
• Chen Shen, Royal Ontario Museum

Dates: Monday-Friday, August 19-23, 2019

A significant portion of Chinese artworks in most museums outside China were collected in the early 20th century. Objects that pre-date the Early Imperial periods of China often have come into the collections with unknown archaeological provenance. Today, with a century of advancement in the field of Chinese archaeology, we can review and re-examine these objects in museum collections. Archaeological context provides us with credible arguments about the dates, functions, ancient minds, and symbolisms of the objects under inquiry, which are often multi-layered and complex.

With the Royal Ontario Museum’s outstanding collections of Chinese art, this workshop would offer students an alternate approach to studying objects of early China. We will critically analyze ancient potteries, bronzes, jades, lacquers, stone and bone carvings, with a focus on China’s Bronze Age period (c. 16 century BEC – 1st century – from Shang to Han dynasties). In combination with learning how to read archaeological reports, students will be guided to look at the objects through an archaeological lens. This will enhance an in-depth examination of objects that are often studied for their aesthetic value alone, such as bronze mirrors, ritual vessels, belt hookers and buckles, tomb tiles and tomb figurines. Objects from the sites of Anyang and Luoyang will be featured in the workshop, and will be placed into the dynamic realms of material culture as means of studying ancient society and people.

2018 Workshops

Workshop One: Chinese Ink Art

Host: National Museum of Asian Art

Workshop Leaders:

  • Kathleen Ryor, Carleton College
  • Lihong Liu, University of Rochester
  • Stephen Allee, National Museum of Asian Art
  • with guest scholar Ling Lizhong, Shanghai Museum

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 11-15, 2018

One of the most vexing issues in traditional Chinese ink art is the question of authenticity. The way a line is executed, dots distributed, or composition arranged affects how a work can be authenticated. An even more complex challenge is differentiating artworks’ quality. The process of determining quality is a valuable exercise, permitting a range of artworks (original, copied, or forged) to speak to one another. It also entails assessing how collectors and connoisseurs engaged with those works over time by inscribing colophons and stamping seals.

Utilizing the National Museum of Asian Art’s noted collections, this workshop will explore paintings and calligraphy of the Ming and Qing periods. Examples will include works created by or attributed to the Wu School artists (both masters and lesser artists), Bada Shanren, and Shitao. For comparison, we will also examine a few earlier works in ink, such as Li Gonglin’s baimiao. The workshop will juxtapose original art and plausible attributions with duplicates, derivatives, and other kinds of forgeries created for the commercial market. By comparing genuine works with believable copies and accomplished fakes, the workshop will lead participants to a comprehensive grasp of painting and calligraphy as interrelated and interactive forms of ink art.

Workshop Two: Early Chinese Jades

Host: National Museum of Asian Art

Workshop Leaders:

  • Jigen Tang, Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
  • Chen Shen, Royal Ontario Museum & University of Toronto
  • Keith Wilson, National Museum of Asian Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, August 27–31, 2018

Jade, “the fairest of stones,” occupies a central place in traditional Chinese antiquarianism. Modern archaeologists continue to document its cultural importance across millennia in China. Jade is rarely the subject of art history seminars, however, perhaps because direct study of indubitably authentic objects is critical.

Using the extraordinary collections of the National Museum of Asian Art, this workshop focuses on jades produced from the late Neolithic period (circa 5000–1700 BCE) to the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), as well as the modern forgeries they have inspired. While drawing upon geology and archaeology, we will chiefly foster critical-looking skills to address questions of fabric, technology, typology, chronology, quality, and object alternation over time. Diagnostic exercises resulting in thoughtful physical descriptions will be enriched by technical studies to promote a fuller understanding of individual objects. Sharpened visual analysis will allow participants to distinguish between pristine antiquities, objects remade in ancient times, archaized works produced in early styles, and contemporary fakes.

2017 Workshops

Workshop One: Chinese Objects Outside of China

Host: Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library
Workshop Leaders:

  • Vimalin Rujivacharakul, University of Delaware
  • Robert Mintz, Asian Art Museum
  • with Winterthur Conservation and Curatorial Staff

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 5–9, 2017

This workshop examines the illusive genre of “Chinese export objects.” From the late seventeenth to early twentieth century, more than 80 percent of objects from China collected around the world belong to this genre. Despite their worldwide abundance, such objects remain understudied. They are often labeled as decorative art or traded objects, and they are seldom included in the history of Chinese art. Categorizing these heterodox Chinese objects may therefore be challenging even to well-trained graduates in this field. This weeklong workshop draws on the depth of Winterthur’s collections and its world-class conservation labs. It focuses on the close examination of these objects and how best to understand them in relation to global art history and Chinese art.

Workshop Two: Chinese Buddhist Art

Host: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Workshop Leaders:

  • Katherine Tsiang, University of Chicago
  • Wei-Cheng Lin, University of Chicago
  • Colin Mackenzie, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, August 28–September 1, 2017

The introduction of Buddhism to China in the early centuries CE resulted in the richest and longest tradition of Buddhist art production in Asia. This workshop is based on the extensive collection of Chinese Buddhist art now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. The collections range from sculpture in stone, bronze, wood, and lacquer to ceramics, mural painting, and architectural material from temple buildings, and they include pieces from famous Buddhist cave temples. Students are introduced to viewing works closely and learn how to look at Buddhist objects from interrelated perspectives: chronology, period style and modes of production, production materials, former/original location (if known), and religious and cultural contexts. The significance of inscriptions is also explored. Most of the workshop sessions take place in the galleries where the objects are on display. The group can then survey the range of sculptural types, view them in juxtaposition with each other, and highlight visual comparisons and differences. Smaller pieces are examined in the viewing room.

2016 Workshops

Workshop One: Early Chinese Paintings

Host:  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Workshop Leaders:

  • Hui-shu Lee, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Richard Vinograd, Stanford University
  • Nancy Berliner, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Richard Barnhart, Yale University (Emeritus)

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 13–17, 2016

Explore early Chinese paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). Drawing from the MFA’s rich collection of works attributed to the Song and Yuan and earlier eras, the workshop will consider the intertwined procedures of connoisseurship and attribution studies, conservation and technical studies, object-driven scholarship, collecting history, canon formation (and deconstruction), and art historical writing. Students will consider works of established historiographical importance as well as paintings connected to emerging concerns in recent art historical writing, such as women and gender, Daoist religious art, word/text/poetry-and-image relationships, interregional networks of Buddhist art exchange, and images and imaginaries of ethnic others.

Workshop Two: Chinese Calligraphy

Host: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Workshop Leaders:

  • Robert Harrist Jr., Columbia University
  • Hui-Wen Lu, National Taiwan University
  • Joe Scheier-Dolberg, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, August 29–September 2, 2016

Investigate works of Chinese calligraphy and related paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Through close study of objects, students will learn to read signatures, inscriptions, and seals and to understand the important ways in which writing informs the aesthetic, historical, and expressive dimensions of Chinese art. Instructors will emphasize issues in connoisseurship, materials, techniques, and determining authenticity. In addition to developing basic skills of analyzing and describing calligraphy, students will explore the role of writing in works that combine texts and images. The workshop also will consider Chinese calligraphy in relation to other traditions of writing as a fine art represented in the museum’s collections.

2015 Workshops

Workshop One: On Chinese Porcelain

Host: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
Workshop Leaders:

  • Patricia Berger,  University of California, Berkeley
  • Li He, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (AAMSF)
  • Ellen Huang, University of San Francisco

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 8–12, 2015

This workshop will address the marginalization of Chinese ceramics in art historical scholarship, and encourage object-based research on ceramics as artifacts of visual and material culture.  Drawing upon the rich Chinese ceramic collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (AAMSF), the workshop will provide students a basic understanding of the evolution of ceramic manufacture, the technical and social aspects of Chinese ceramic production, the forms and decoration of Chinese ceramics, and the political and cultural aspects of consumption, particularly of porcelain made at Jingdezhen in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Additionally, the AAMSF’s West Asian and Southeast Asian ceramic collections and other San Francisco collections will allow for the consideration of the global distribution of Chinese ceramics and the interrelationships it engendered.

Workshop Two: Chinese Art of the 17th Century

Host: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Workshop Leaders:

  • Kathleen Ryor, Carleton College
  • Bruce Rusk, University of British Columbia
  • Stephen Little, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Dates: Monday–Friday, August 24–28, 2015

The workshop will highlight the art that emerged in the traumatic yet creative period at the turn of Ming and Qing dynasties. Using LACMA’s permanent Chinese art collection as well as the 17th century paintings from the Jung Ying Tsao Collection (on long-term loan at LACMA), the workshop will focus on the close examination of Chinese painting and17th century three-dimensional works of art. In the aspect of determining an authentic Chinese painting, special attention will be given to artists whose works are often copied and forged, as well as to materials, techniques and collectors’ seals and inscriptions. Students will also learn how to use the study of different materials and types of artworks to enrich their understanding of a given period’s art, culture, and economic, political, and social history. The week long workshop will also provide an introduction to the research environment of the museum, and insights into the curatorial profession.

2014 Workshops

Workshop One: Seeing Chinese Paintings

Host: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo.
Workshop Leaders:

  • Jonathan Hay, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU
  • Colin Mackenzie, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 9–13, 2014

This workshop concentrated on skills of seeing that precede comparison. Specifically, the workshop focused on two skills that can be taught and developed only in the presence of the paintings themselves. The first skill is discerning the full range of an artist’s craft—technical, formal, and conceptual—as seen in an individual painting, with particular emphasis on reconstructing the visual and material thinking behind the painting’s creation. The second, equally necessary skill is that of articulating what has been discerned in clear language. Students practiced these two skills using a wide variety of paintings belonging to different historical periods and artistic traditions in the Nelson-Atkins collection.

Workshop Two: Zhe School Painting

Host: National Museum of Asian Art, Washington, DC
Workshop Leaders:

  • Kathleen Ryor, Carleton College
  • Jennifer Purtle, University of Toronto
  • Stephen Allee, National Museum of Asian Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, August 25–29, 2014

This workshop introduced object-oriented approaches to Chinese painting by examining works of the so-called Zhe School, court and professional painters of the Ming dynasty working in styles of the Song academy. The National Museum of Asian Art has one of the world’s leading collections of Zhe School paintings (approx. 130–40 works). The properties of Zhe School paintings make them perfect for learning sophisticated visual analysis, including dating works on the basis of signatures and seals, style, and format. Their stylistic relationships to earlier works and to literati paintings (despite criticism that denies this relationship) and the fact that they include many problematic works make Zhe School paintings an ideal subject for developing skills essential to understanding larger connoisseurial problems of Chinese paintings.

2013 Workshops

Workshop One: Chinese Bronzes

Host: National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution
Workshop Leaders:

  • Jenny Fung-Suk So, Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Guolong Lai, University of Florida
  • Keith Wilson, National Museum of Asian Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, June 3–7, 2013

The collection of ancient Chinese bronzes in the National Museum of Asian Art was at the center of this workshop, designed to give students an understanding of different types of bronzes, methods of manufacture, stylistic evolution and iconography, and inscriptions. The religious and social significance, role of antiquarianism, connoisseurship, and collecting history in the study of archaic bronzes was also considered.

Emphasis was placed on close observation of the bronze objects so that students would learn how to look and understand what they are seeing. Workshop participants were also exposed to technical analysis of Chinese bronzes in the National Museum of Asian Art’s Department of Conservation and Scientific Research.

Workshop Two: Writing and Chinese Art

Host: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Workshop Leaders:

  • Qianshen Bai, Boston University
  • Peter Sturman, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Maxwell Hearn, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dates: Monday–Friday, August 26–30, 2013

Drawn from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Chinese collections, a range of calligraphy and classical paintings that incorporate textual elements introduced students to various approaches to Chinese writing. The workshop covered topics such as reading different calligraphic forms (scripts), calligraphy as an art historical subject, and the role of writing in larger text-image programs. Through close visual analysis of the objects, students became better well equipped to read signatures, inscriptions, and seals, and to understand the important ways in which writing informs the aesthetic, historical, and expressive dimensions of objects. Emphasis was also given to issues in connoisseurship, exploring materials, techniques, and questions of authenticity.