Decorative Arts, Architecture, and Manhua: Problematizing Exhibitions in Republican China (1912-49)

Title: 1237 | Decorative Arts, Architecture, and Manhua: Problematizing Exhibitions in Republican China (1912-49)
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yiwen Liu, The Ohio State University, United States (organizer, presenter)
Jane DeBevoise, Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong and New York, Hong Kong (chair)
Xi Zhang, The University of Chicago, United States (presenter)
Felicity Yin, University of California San Diego, United States (presenter)


Scholars often grapple with how to study art exhibitions. Source materials are usually fragmentary, linkages between individuals are difficult to trace and verify, and the impact of the exhibitions are difficult to assess in isolated cases. In the case of modern China, exhibitions became a public space where different agents contested their visions of modernity and Chineseness. Exhibition participants did not just make commercial benefits but gained an opportunity to shape the future of modern China in their views. Thus, exhibition history, despite the difficulties, is an indispensable part of modern Chinese history.

This panel attempts to problematize the physical and conceptual space of exhibitions in the context of Republican China with three types of exhibitions as case studies. Xiaojian Yin’s work examines the 1929 West Lake Exposition in Hangzhou and explores its connection to the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. Both Xi Zhang and Yiwen Liu’s works focus on exhibitions in Shanghai in 1936. Whereas Zhang’s work looks at different visions of modern Chinese architecture through the national exhibition at the city museum and their participation in the urban planning of a New Shanghai, Liu’s work analyzes a manhua exhibition, discussing the unique role of the exhibition in manhua artists’ career.

The three papers explore exhibitions’ interactions with local socio-political situations as well as international influences from Europe and Japan. They put three types of exhibitions in Republican China into a conversation, and challenge existing narratives of the rigid boundaries between artistic types.

Panel Abstracts:
From Print to Exhibition: The First National Manhua Exhibition (1936) in Shanghai
Manhua (cartoon and comic), long neglected by historians in favor of more serious art types such as oil and ink painting, started to receive scholarly attention recently. However, researchers have been focusing on its connection to the blooming print culture and little attention is given to the role of exhibitions. By examining the First National Manhua Exhibition (FNME, 1936), my paper fills the gap and answers this question: How does manhua, whose initial and primary platform is print, seek its expression in exhibitions? I first examine an article written by the Japanese manga artist Okamoto Ippei (1886-1948) on exhibitions’ role in manga artists’ careers published in the special edition of the Shanghai magazine Modern Puck (Manhuajie), which served as the FNME’s catalogue. I explore a common concern among Chinese and Japanese manga/manhua circles on how they should approach exhibition and print differently. I then examine the displayed manhua reproduced in the Modern Puck, including 25 works in color with a pictorial quality. I explore how artists pursued a balance between artistic quality and social criticism, the latter being a key quality of manhua in Chinese artists’ minds.Treating the Modern Puck as both a document of the historical exhibition and a reflection of the artists’ intention. I argue that before the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, whereas print media remained the major platform, manhua artists claimed their legitimacy in the Shanghai art world in this exhibition.

In Search of Modern Chinese Architecture for New Shanghai: The National Exhibition of Architecture in 1936
The first National Exhibition of Architecture, sponsored by the Nationalist government, was held in 1936 at the Shanghai Municipal Museum. The Exhibition envisioned a multifaceted meaning: it was the first large-scale exhibition organized by the newly opened city museum; it aimed at presenting the achievements of the successfully executed Greater Shanghai Plan, drawn up by the Nanjing nationalist government in 1927; and furthermore, the exhibition served as a contested space where the first generation of modern Chinese architects unfolded their ideals for Chinese architecture. As one of the major landmarks in the Greater Shanghai Plan, the city museum manifested the government’s intense efforts to retrieve a Chinese municipality in Shanghai. The building per se attested to a model of national architecture that synthesized “classical Chinse-style form” and modern technology and materials. The paper examines the first National Exhibition of Architecture in three aspects: first as an exhibition that was curated and laid out in the museum space, second as a public showcase demonstrating the new Shanghai urban center under construction, and lastly as a genealogy of modern Chinese architecture tracing back to timber temples and pagodas in the late Tang, and palatial buildings and structure in the Qing. The paper sets out to investigate what role that the nationalist government and Chinese architects played in putting together the exhibition. The exhibition, museum space, as well as the new urban planning project embodied and further generated multiple searches for ideal architectural expression of a modern Chinese nation and nationalist identity.

From Paris to West Lake, Promoting Decorative Arts in China
This study examines the transcultural dissemination of the style of Art Deco by comparing two exhibitions in the 1920s: International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes) in Paris in 1925 and the West Lake Exposition in Hangzhou in 1929. I focus on how decorative arts functioned as a way to represent cultural cosmopolitanism in the context of exhibitions and how Chinese artists utilized it to improve the domestic industry and the aesthetic education of the people. I first analyze magazine reviews at that time to interpret Chinese intellectuals’ reception of the Paris exhibition, which allows us to know what kind of artistic value they get from it, and then discuss how a variety of artistic societies and activities seeks to promote modern design in China. One of the key figures, Liu Jipiao (1990--1992), who participated in both exhibitions, represents the effort to integrate art and life. Both his theory and practice demonstrate how he synchronized different types of decorative arts and elevated them to the status of fine art. By investigating the resonance between the displayed artworks and the actual exhibitional space in the West Lake Exposition, this study inquires the role of the exhibition as a mediator among shifting cultural identities. In addition, by examining how the intellectuals publicized and promoted this exhibition, I discuss their attempt to promote design practice in China and to represent an ideal lifestyle to the masses

This panel is on Wednesday - Session 01 - Room 7

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