Complementary Modernisms in China and the United States: Art as Life/Art as Idea is the record of a conference of Chinese and Americanist art historians about the development of modernism in their respective traditions. The chapters juxtapose historical developments without attempting to map connections or influences. Instead, both national modernisms are presented as part of the larger terrain of global modernism, generated within specific circumstances. This juxtaposition reveals significant differences as much as any particular moments of connection or similarities, disrupting any standard narrative of the primacy of French (or European) avant-garde and its influence on more belated and peripheral communities.
These differences are not merely the result of the very different historical trajectories of each country’s move into modernity. Rather, differences in attention and methodology are just as important, in particular the focus on the post-1980 development of Chinese art as part of the modernization of Chinese culture and economy, rather than an American perspective on post-1980s post-modern qualities. At the same time, significant convergent concerns emerge: the importance of urban centers and urbanization, the profound effect of political or technological disruption, the question of identity.
The papers represent a cross-section of leading Chinese and Americanist art historians, from very senior to junior, from working on Ashcan to contemporary art, with (as is usual in any survey of the 20th-century these days) a concentration on the 1960s.