Tag: Institute of the Study of American Art in China

ISAAC Report 2017-2018

The Institute welcomed our first group of ISAAC scholars from Nanjing University last fall and we took our first research trip in early October to Chicago. The Terra Foundation of American Art staff, Director Elizabeth Glassman, Curator PJ Brownlee, and Carrie Haslett, Program Director of Exhibition & Academic Grants, welcomed us to the city. A special tour of their impressive collection included early American landscapes, portraiture and genre painting.

Liu Yi and Gao Xin in the Terra Foundation’s art vault



ISAAC scholars at the Block Museum of Art’s study room with Curator Corinne Granoff

Our week included visits to significant American art museum collections including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University. Each institution’s curatorial staff graciously hosted our group and engaged in meaningful dialogue with the scholars. Midway through the week, we travelled to the South Side to meet renowned Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt at his studio. Executed in welded and cast steel, aluminum, copper, and bronze, Hunt’s abstract creations are in collections across the globe, including his 2016 installation at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Gao Xin and artist Richard Hunt in his studio

We also had the opportunity to visit four private collections. Works by the Chicago Imagists featured prominently in two of the collections; another contained a comprehensive collection of photographs that spanned the history of the medium. The fourth displayed Arts and Crafts collections in settings created to reflect the aesthetics of the movement, including the work of Gustav Stickley.


Following Chicago was a trip in mid-October to New Mexico, with time in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Abiquiú, and Taos. The scholars were introduced to the art, culture, history, and landscape of the Southwest. Our trip began with a drive to Albuquerque, the new home for Dallas artist Jean Lacy and her son Nathaniel Lacy, and her large collection of art and objects including folk art and Native American pottery. Lacy’s own work focuses on the African-American experience. She shared her recent work with the scholars, a series of cigar boxes that display small tableaus of found objects and text that respond to current issues of race and politics.



Gao Xin at the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center with Director Eumie Imm Stroukoff





View from Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiú Home and Studio

An important focus of the trip was on the life and work of Georgia O’Keeffe, with time at the O’Keeffe Museum and Research Center, and her Abiquiú home and studio. Scenic drives to and from our appointments revealed familiar landscapes and forms seen in O’Keeffe’s work. Other notable collections of folk art and Taos art were at the International Museum of Folk Art and the Harwood Museum respectively.

Dr. Zhou Xian in the International Folk Art Museum’s art storage with Curator Laura Addison

The scholars will take five more research trips this year before they return to Nanjing in August. Their travels will take them to Washington, D.C., up the Rockies from Denver to Cody, up the Mississippi from St. Louis to Minneapolis, to Philadelphia and New York City, and to Arkansas and Oklahoma. Opportunities to meet scholars, students, and collectors and to explore collections, archives, and libraries throughout the United States serve to train a new generation of Chinese art historians who are equipped to teach American art history at the university level throughout China.


Please join us on Tuesday, March 6th, 4:00 p.m. in the DMA Research Center for a research report from our ISAAC scholars. Liu Yi is working on a book about American landscape painting, and Gao Xin is working on a study of American Modernism and its interactions with various forms of European Modernism. Both are brilliant, personable, and very important for scholarly relations with China since each will write the first books in Chinese on American Art before 1945. Yi and Xin will each share their research projects and future plans to create an undergraduate seminar for their students upon their return to China. I hope you can join us in March and meet these exceptional scholars.


Lauren LaRocca

Coordinator of Special Programs

The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History

Report of the Director

Richard Brettell - AH - Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair in Aesthetic Studies - Art History

Richard Brettell – Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair in Aesthetic Studies – Art History

The specialist history of Chinese Art in America is now more than a century old, and we have important collections of Chinese Art and concomitant art historians who specialize in Chinese art in virtually every American city. Yet, with Maoist China, both commerce in Chinese art and active scholarly interchange was in hiatus. Now, with the openness of China and with the competitive edge in the world economy swinging in its direction, any serious art history institute must reckon with China.

Fortunately, we at UTD have one of the first Confucius Institutes in the US, and its Director, Dr. Ming Dong Gu, is a native of the great imperial and university city of Nanjing (which we used to call Nanking). Through Dr. Gu’s efforts, we at the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History were invited by the Institute of Art to the University of Nanjing.

Our idea was simple, to introduce for the first time in a major Chinese university (whose origins go back to the third century of the common era!) an Institute of the Study of American Art in China (ISAAC). Our partner in this endeavor is the Amon Carter Museum, whose collection of American Art and whose unparalleled library and archive of American Art history is one of the great resources of North Texas. Dr. Andrew Walker and I went to China under Dr. Gu’s expert guidance and spent several days in Nanjing.

It was, for both of us, our first trip to China and was in every way life-changing. We landed in Shanghai, took the fast train to Nanjing, and were immediately immersed in the graduate school campus of the University of Nanjing. Our tour of the beautiful old campus included the Pearl Buck House, where the first American Woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature lived in the 1920’s and early 1930’s when Nanjing was the capital of Republic China. This block-like, grey brick house now stands empty in the center of the campus and is, for Americans, an architectural talisman of a time when Americans played a vital role in the international understanding of China.

In our conversations with Dr. Zhou Xian, the distinguished Director of the Art Institute of Nanjing University, the graduate students in its distinguished program of aesthetics and art history, and the undergraduates at the new suburban undergraduate campus of the University of Nanjing, both Andrew and I were impressed by the rare combination of knowledge and curiosity that is essential to the most important scholarship.

We began to conceive together an Institute for the Study of American Art in China that has four components: 1. Systematically training Chinese Art historians to teach and research the history of American Art, 2. Publishing an evolving series of important titles in American Art History in Chinese, 3. Bringing distinguished American art historians to Nanjing for a series of Summer Courses in American Art History, and 3. Imagining with colleagues at Chinese museums a program of exhibitions of American Art in China.

Before we left and in more intensive conversations after our return, we discussed these efforts with Chicago’s Terra Foundation for American Art, who will become the fifth partner in an initial three-year joint funding of this institute with the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History and the Confucius Institute at UTD, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, and the University of Nanjing.

This program of cooperation among a Chinese and an American university, an American museum, and an American foundation committed to promoting knowledge of American Art history outside our borders, can—and will—have a profound effect both on China and on the US. American Art historians have contributed so much in the past century to the art historical knowledge of European, Latin American, African, and Asian institutions. With ISAAC (our felicitous acronym), we will create a fertile context for US in the United Sates to learn about ourselves from Chinese scholars.

With wonderful direct flights from DFW airport to China, the work already accomplished by our Dean, Dr. Dennis Kratz, and the director of our Confucius Institute, will take on a new dimension and add the University of Nanjing to the highly “curated” international alliances of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. We will have active programs in Nanjing and Naples, in Munich and Zurich, and, perhaps, in France. Edith O’Donnell has allowed us at UTD to spread our wings, and we have flown far and wide.