By Shuhan Liang
Translated by Rebecca Catching
When it comes to the topic of American art in the mind of the public, people immediately jump to the topic of “Modern Art,” as if Modern art has become the sole representative of the whole of American art—a calling card for the entirety of American culture. Undoubtedly this is a case of mistaking the part for the whole, painting it in broad strokes, but like most prejudices or biases, it is derived from an original source. Perhaps it is because “American Modern Art” is simply more renowned, compared to other forms indigenous to the country, but these prejudices are not limited to this single issue. When we speak of “American Modern Art,” this immediately sets people on the path of the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and 50s or the Pop art of the 1960s. Therefore all of American Art—the unrestrained and unbridled and rough, the magnificent and the dazzling—is, in the popular imagination, reduced to the kind of “commercial art aesthetic” which is exemplified in within the form of Pop.
However, strictly speaking, “American Modern Art” can be divided into two phases; the first phase is the phase of pure abstraction—paintings which were produced from 1910-1929 in the early era before the Great Depression; the second phase was Abstract Expressionism—a movement which was quite familiar to Chinese scholars. As for the latter, there was still the lingering question of whether “Minimalism” or “Pop Art” were actually a part of the modernist movement, or were they merely transitional stages between Modern and Postmodern art. But in terms of the broader topic of American Modernism, most of the academic research is dedicated is on the later phase; this is perhaps related to various political factors.
Since the new millennium, Chinese critics have been searching for new methodologies, to break through this tight loop of understanding and cognition, in order to establish their own systems of international discourse. Against this backdrop, Shiyue magazine introduced its readers to certain authors which are representative of the “golden age” in American Art criticism—names such as Meyer Schapiro, Hal Foster, and Rosalind Krauss—who became familiar to scholars working in academic circles in China. In 2009, He Guiuan using his Ph.D. thesis as a foundation, published the book The End of Formal Criticism, which systematically analyzed the failure of Greenburg’s theories of formalism in the context of Postmodernism. Since then, Greenburg has seen something of a Renaissance in China1, with a number of conferences being organized in China on the topic (for instance, Greenburg in China, 2010, at the Gefeng Arts Center). However in terms of the scale of academic achievements relating to American art criticism in China, the largest victories have come from the field of translation; and translation, has, to a large extent, shaped academic trends within China.
Starting in 2013, Shen Yubing’s conference, Translation and Research on Western Contemporary Art Theory, hosted at Jiangsu University (with support from the National Social Sciences Fund of China) can be seen as a high-point in terms of the levels of enthusiasm for academic art translation. These translated writings constituted the best way for Chinese scholars to approach the issues surrounding American Modern Art, and also provided an important reference-point for reflecting upon these texts, acting as a means of establishing a system of criticism for Chinese contemporary art.
From the perspective of art historical research, and the study of American Modern Art history, in particular, it tends to focus on the multiple dimensions of a certain formalistic style, movement or school of thought. It isn’t constrained by the concept of Abstract Expressionism, or a political reading of the entirety of American Modern Art, rather it digs deep in into the artistic origins of the work, or aspects such as market mechanisms or the museum system.2 This is an embodiment of a kind of academic excellence, and it is a direct effect of this international vision or approach. Amongst Chinese scholars of American Modern Art, Wang Ruiyun, a Chinese scholar living in America, is worth mentioning as she has made a unique contribution to introducing American Modern Art to China. Since the 1990s, she has, through her humorous writing style, managed to explain profound concepts in simple terms, authoring a large number of books and texts about American Modern Art.
尽管21世纪以来国内对于美国现代艺术有了更加深入的了解，但这种学术力量仍然薄弱，且多集中于20世纪中期的美国现代艺术，以抽象表现主义和波普艺术为主，而对早期现代主义的研究则相对贫乏。譬如，时至今日，国内还没有一部专门研究”军械库展览”的博士论文。20世纪中期的现代艺术抢占了太多学术带宽，而1929年之前的美国现代主义对于后来的影响却鲜有人问津。〔3〕这样就会形成一些认识上的简单化和片面化，例如认为”波普艺术”就是20世纪中期大众消费文化在艺术界的产物。殊不知安迪·沃霍尔的波普艺术与活跃在20年代的美国现代主义画家墨菲（Gerald Murphy）、德莫斯（Charles Demuth）和戴维斯（Stuart Davis）等人实践的内在联系。事实上，”画广告就是画美国”这样的艺术信条来自于”一战”之后那个商业文化迅速崛起的”咆哮的二十年代”。而了解这一部分历史的最经典的那些著述目前在国内却尚未得到译介，譬如布朗的《美国绘画—从”军械库展览”到”大萧条”》〔4〕和戴维斯的《早期美国现代主义绘画：1910—1935》〔5〕。此外，新千年以来，对于美国现代艺术的误区也并未完全消除，在此不予铺陈置评。〔6〕当然，在某种意义上，误区也正是学界祛除误读、探求真知的动力来源。
Although since the 21st Century, Chinese scholars have had a deeper understanding of American Modern Art, their scholarly abilities, and influence is still weak, and most of the scholarship is concentrated on Mid-century modern art, primarily Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art, with research on early Modernism being particularly lacking. For instance, in China, to this day, there have been very few Ph.D. theses written on the “Armory Show.” Mid-Century Modern Art has been occupying too much academic bandwidth, and therefore there are relatively few investigations as to the influence of American Modernism prior to 1929, the foundation upon which later iterations of Modernism were based.3 This has produced some simplifications and one-sided viewpoints in our understanding of the period in China. For instance, the understanding that Pop Art is the product of the mid-century convergence of consumer culture and the art world. There is also little awareness of the fact that Warhol’s Pop Art is intrinsically linked with the artistic practices of other dynamic Modern American Painters such as Gerald Murphy, Charles Demuth, and Stuart Davis. Actually, the precept that “to paint in the style of advertising is to paint America,” derives from the swift rise of commercial culture to prominence after the Second World War, during the “Roaring 20s.” In the process of trying to understand this historical period, we soon discover that some of the most critical classical works of that period have yet to be translated. For instance, Brown’s American Painting from the Armory Show to the Great Depression4 or Davidson’s American Early Modern Painting: 1910-19355. Therefore, even today, numerous blind spots or misunderstandings exist and have yet to be resolved. (Unfortunately, we do not have enough time to discuss them in full detail here.6) Of course, the impulse to dispel these misunderstandings is one of the motivating factors of the academic community, whose collective goal is the unending pursuit of truth.
The significance of studying American Modern Art lies in understanding the process of how American artists seized the culture of Modern Art from Europe and localized it, transforming it into distinctly-American variants. Understanding this will help scholars contribute to the global promotion of Chinese art and Chinese contemporary culture on a global scale. But this endeavor should be established upon a faithful understanding of the conditions of the original place and its artistic sources. In this sense, the Chinese academic world has broken through two biased tendencies in terms of the study of American Art. One is the political conspiracy theory associated with the juncture of Abstract Expressionism, and the other is the cultural conspiracy theory associated with the juncture of China’s 85 New Wave. If we say that the former conspiracy theory is an inevitable consequence of this kind of strategy of cultural output which revolves around a political conflict (between the States and the USSR), then the latter Chinese Avant-Garde was the result of a kind of reminiscence or romanticization of the Cultural Revolution within the art circle. Entering the first two decades of the 21st Century, especially after the financial crisis, the Chinese art world embarked on a period of deep soul searching, introspection and reflection. The aura surrounding the “Avant-Garde” seemed to have dissipated as the movement had lost its cutting-edge vigor. Frequent cultural exchanges between America and China brought an end to the particular symbolic role which American Modern Art played—as a representative of the “vanguard.” Following the growing confidence and independence of Chinese culture—which no longer needed the West in order to provide art historical footnotes, to justify itself—the so-called “criticality” of contemporary art was no longer seen as an imperial sword enshrined with the power of the emperor being ceremonially handed down to a subordinate. Chinese academics can now calmly walk around the halls of American Museums to contemplate the original works of Modern Art, or leaf through historical materials in the archives and libraries. It is only through history that we can truly understand what happened in the History of American Modern Art since the beginning of the previous century. How it existed in its cultural and social environment, and the circumstances of its creation, exhibition, and collection, and I believe that the structure and geometry of this conspiracy theory problem will soon become self-evident.
幸而，当前有力的研究条件层出不穷。除了新世纪以来中美官方和民间频繁的展览交流之外〔7〕，中美学者的学术交往也日渐密集〔8〕。此外，美国逐渐注重非西方世界的学人对自身的研究，并提供了有利条件，既包括资料方面，也包括资金支持〔9〕，这无疑增加了更多学术考察的机会。在研究文献方面，美国也公布和整理了大量的数字化学术资源，例如”美国艺术档案馆”（Archive of American Art）增加了大量原始材料的数字化出版物，并且提供在线免费浏览；盖蒂研究院也免费公开了其学术搜索引擎〔10〕。这些材料的丰富无疑会祛除中国学术界彼时存在的对美国现代艺术的想象，而更有可能以一种田野式的工作态度和研究方法深入到美国现代艺术发展脉络的内部。更重要的是，对于美国现代艺术的研究也必将为中美文化艺术的交流搭桥架梁，拨云见日，消弭误读。□
Fortunately, today we are faced with a never-ending stream of favorable research opportunities or and greatly-improved working conditions. Besides the frequent official and private exchanges which have occurred since the 2000s7, exchanges between Chinese and American scholars are becoming increasingly intensive8. In addition, American art circles have gradually started to attach greater importance to research produced by scholars from the non-Western Art World and has created favorable conditions for research, including materials, and financial support.9 This new interest in non-Western scholarship on American Modern Art has undoubtedly produced more opportunities for academic study. In terms of the research into archives, a large number of digital materials have recently been made public. For instance, the Archive of American Art has added a large number of digital publications of primary materials, providing free online browsing; and the Getty Institute has also made its academic search engine freely available.10 The richness of these materials will undoubtedly dispel some of the fanciful ideas which existed about American Modern Art in Academic circles of the time, and could possibly encourage a turn towards a fieldwork-based research method, deepening the strains of thought within the development of Modern American Art. But more importantly, this research into American Modern Art will strengthen the connections and expand the breadth of cultural and artistic exchange between China and America, laying the foundations for new bridges to be built. These developments represent a powerful beam of light, which illuminate the art historical landscape and eliminate these historical misunderstandings.
〔2〕例如《抽象表现主义的艺术探源》（马新明）、《大众文化视阈下的美国抽象表现主义绘画源流探析》（张涛等）、《20世纪50年代纽约现代艺术博物馆有关抽象表现主义的展览研究》（李文奇，硕士论文，上海大学，2015年）、《美国抽象表现主义艺术早期市场研究》（上中下，王学凤，《荣宝斋》，2016年）、《阿尔弗雷德·H·巴尔与纽约现代艺术博物馆的早期建立》（高高，硕士论文，中央美术学院，2004年）、《20世纪前期美国艺术博物馆与现代主义艺术美国化研究》（陆豪，硕士论文，中国美术学院，2016年）、段勇的《当代美国博物馆》（著作）、《美国艺术博物馆》（译著）等。〔3〕关于1913年”军械库展览”的论文和译文相对丰裕，如《新精神：1913年军械库展览中的美国艺术》（盖尔·斯塔维茨基、劳雷特·麦卡锡，胡晓岚翻译，《世界美术》2013年第3期）、《1913年军械库展览对美国现代艺术的影响》（彭晓，《新视觉艺术》2009年）等。当然，这种兴趣一方面来源于”军械库展览”本身的历史意义，另一方面也与当今影响较大的”军械库艺术展”艺博会有关（不过这个艺博会只是借其名号而已，是对1913年”军械库展览”的致敬，实则与之无关）。〔4〕Milton W. Brown, American Painting: From the Armory Show to theDepression, Princeton University Press, 1955.〔5〕Abraham A. Davidson, Early American Modernist Painting: 1910-1935, Da Capo Press, 1994。不过，尽管专著和译注尚付阙如，却有论文偶存，如《黑山学院与美国现代艺术》（吴秋野，《荣宝斋》2005年）、《哈莱姆文艺复兴中的艺术—一个以”国家艺术”与”种族意识”为线索的研究性综述》（徐志君，《美术与设计》2016年），以及本人拙文《立体主义与美国早期现代艺术的本土化》（《世界美术》2015年第1期）。反而在文学领域不乏关于美国早期现代主义的文献，可供日后艺术史学人参考，如《论美国早期现代主义思想的特质与特征》（李维屏，《外语研究》2013年第1期）等。
〔6〕例如在《20世纪80年代的美国现代艺术》（隋丞、李丽，《美术大观》2001年9月刊）中，仍然把美国20世纪80年代的涂鸦艺术家巴斯基亚归入”现代艺术”的阵营。〔7〕其中规模最大的一次是2007年在中国美术馆举办的”美国艺术三百年”展览。〔8〕近年来的几次涉及美国现代艺术的学术活动包括：”美国艺术史与展览国际学术研讨会”（2013年），以及”生活与观念、融汇与交锋—中国和美国现代艺术之学术研讨”（2016年）。〔9〕例如本部位于芝加哥的”泰拉美国艺术基金会”（Terra Foundation for American Art）每年都会资助非西方学者对地域范围内的美国艺术的研究，其中自然也包括了美国现代艺术。〔10〕The Getty Research Institute，网址http://www.getty.edu/research/.
1. Yi Ying published several translations of Greenberg’s works in the 1980s including “Towards a Newer Laocoon,” and “Modernist Painting,” in the magazine World Art.
2. For instance, “Chouxiang biaoxianzhuyi de yishu tanyuan” [The Artistic Sources of Abstract Expressionism], (Ma Xinmin), “Dazhong wenhua shiyu xia de meiguo chouxiang biaoxianzhuyi huihua yuanliu tanxi,”[An Analysis of the Origins and Development of American Abstract Expressionism Under the Vision of Popular Culture] (Zhang Taodeng), “20 shijie 50 niandai niuyue xiandai yishu bowuguan you guan chouxiang biaoxianzhuyi de zhanlan yanjiu,” [A Study on the Abstract Expressionist Exhibitions in New York’s Modern Art Museums in the 1950s], (Li Wenqi, Master’s thesis, Shanghai University, 2015), “Meiguo chouxiang biaoxianzhuyi zaoqi shichang yanjiu,” [A Study of the Market: Early Abstract Expressionism], (Parts 1,2 and 3, Wang Xuefeng, Rong Bao Zhai, 2016), “Aerfuleide·H·baer yu niuyue xiandai yishu bowuguan de zaoqi jianli,” [Alfred H. Barr and the Early Years of the Founding of New York’s Art Museums], (Gao Gao, Master’s thesis, China Academy of Fine Arts, 2004). “20 shiji qianqi meiguo yishu bowuguan yu xiandai zhuyi yishuguan meiguohua yanjiu” [A Study of the Early 20th Century American Art Museums and the Americanization of Modernism], (Lu Hao, Master’s Thesis, China Academy of Art 2016),” Yong Duan’s “Dangdai Meiguo Bowuguan, [American Contemporary Museums], (author), “Meiguo Yishu Bowuguan,” [American Art Museums], (translation) amongst others.
3.The texts and translations relating to the 1913 “Armory Show” are relatively numerous. For instance “Xin jingshen: 1913 junxieku zhanlan zhong de meiguo yishu,” “The New Spirit: American Art in the Armory Show, 1913,” by Stavitsky, Gail, McCarthy, Laurette E., and Duncan, Charles H., translated by Hu Xiaotong, World Art, vol. 3, 2013, (Peng Shao, “Xin shejue yishu,” [New Visual Art], 2009, and others. Of course, interest in this topic is linked not only to the inherent historical significance of this moment, but also the relationship to the hugely-influential art fair, “The Armory Show.” (However, the only connection is that the art fair borrowed the name of the original exhibition, paying homage to it, but in fact, there is no meaningful connection between the two.)
4. Brown, Milton W., American Painting: From the Armory Show to the Depression, Princeton University Press, 1955.
5. Davidson, Abraham A. Early American Modernist Painting: 1910-1935, Da Capo Press, 1994. Although we are still lacking in the number of monographs and translations, there are a few works of note, for instance, “Heishan xueyuan yu meiguo xiandai yishu,” [Black Mountain College and Modern American Art], Wu Qiuye, Rong Bao Zhai, 2005, “Haleimu wenyi fuxing zhong de yishu yi ge yi ‘guojia yishu’ yu ‘zhongzu yishi’ wei xiansu de yanjiuxing zongshu,” [Art of the Harlem Renaissance, Threads of ‘National Art’ and ‘Racial Consciousness’—a Literature Review], Xu Zhijun, Fine Arts and Design, 2016, and my own essay “Litizhuyi yu meiguo zaoqi xiandai yishu de bentuhua,” [Cubism and the Localization of Early Modern American Art], World Art, vol.1, 2015. By contrast, in the field of American literature, there is no shortage of archival materials pertaining to Early Modernism, waiting for the future consideration of scholars, for instance, “Lun meiguo zaoqi xiandaizhuyi sixiang de tezhi yu tezheng,” [On the Qualities and Characteristics of Early Modern Thought], (Li Weiping, Foreign Languages Research, Vol. 1, 2013).
6. For instance, in “20 shiji 80 niandai de meiguo xiandai yishu,” [American Modern Art in the 80s], (Sui Zheng and Li Li, Art Panorama, September 2001,) the authors still place the graffiti artist, Basquiat, in the camp of “Modern Art.”
7. Amongst these exhibitions, the largest in terms of scale “Three-Hundred Years of American Art,” was organized by the US, and held in China in 2007.
8. Recently these scholars have been involved in several academic events relating to American Modern Art including: “The International Conference on American Art and Exhibition: Presentation of American Art at Home and Abroad from the 19th Century to the Present,” 2013 and “Shenghuo yu gainian, ronghui yu jiaofeng yi zhongguo he meiguo xiandai yishu zhi xueshu yanjiu,” [Art and Ideas: Integration and Confrontation, Academic Discussions on China and Modern American Art].
9. For instance, each year the Chicago-based Terra Foundation for American Art sponsors the research of non-western scholars in the field of American art, which naturally includes American Modern Art.）
10. The Getty Research Institute, (last accessed April 7, 2019, http://www.getty.edu/research/)
Shuhan Liang is a Professor at the Department of Media and Communications at Tianjin Normal University.