SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Lecture: Order and Things: Art History and Chinese Sculpture

Stanley Abe (Duke University)

Date: 21 September 2010Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 21 September 2010Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture

Organised in conjunction with the Research Training in the History of Chinese Art and Archaeology workshop on 21-24 September 2010.


How is it that we came to have an object which is self-evidently a work of Chinese Sculpture? The historical process through which certain objects but not others were transformed into a heretofore unknown category—"Chinese Sculpture"—began in the second half of the Qing Dynasty when Chinese antiquarians searched out inscribed objects for not only epigraphical and historical evidence but as material evidence of antiquity. The Western categories of Fine Art and Sculpture were not known in China until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Then a complex process of engagement between Chinese antiquarian practices and foreign interest in "Chinese Art" produced the type of object which came to be collected, exchanged, and studied as Chinese Sculpture.

The presentation will consider the role of art history and its forms of order in the construction of the category of Chinese Sculpture. Of special interest will be the making of period styles, theoretical concepts of development, hierarchies of value, and the organization of a canon of Chinese sculpture around the prime object. The role of connoisseurship is, of course, central. Finally, we will consider the issue of authenticity and the Fake. When does an object need to be authentic? How are Fakes integral to the canon of Chinese Sculpture? And what is it that is the object of our study?


Stanley Abe received the Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and has held an appointment as Visiting Fellow, King’s College, Cambridge University. He has written on Chinese Buddhist art and contemporary Chinese art. His book Ordinary Images (University of Chicago Press, 2002) was recipient of the 2003 Shimada Prize for distinguished scholarship in the history of East Asian art. He is currently writing a critical study of how Chinese Buddhist sculpture became a category of fine art during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


The event is free and open to the public.  No booking is required.

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Sponsor: Funded by the AHRC & BICC, co-sponsored by ears