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Art History Seminar:

The Laboring of Art: The Rise of Socialist Amateur Art Practice and the Arrival of the Contemporary in the People’s Republic of China

Date: 14 December 2020 (Monday) 
Time: 10:00am
Venue: Zoom

Registration required.

This talk takes up the question of amateur art practice during the socialist period (late 1940s to late 1970s) in China, and its attempt to convert the rarified practice of processional, academy-trained artists into an everyday praxis. Known variously as yeyu meishu chuangzuo, qunzhong meishu huodong, gongnongbing meishu, and nongmin hua, amateur art practice originated from small art study groups held at industrial and agricultural labor sites, where rural farmers and industrial workers met to create images depicting their labor and lifestyles. I argue that socialist amateur art practice not only changed the class and labor relations that had previously defined the fine arts, but also converted the expert and professional cultures of the fine arts into a grassroots practice of the everyday. By creating new publics for art appreciation, and by centering art production outside the academy, amateur art practice challenged the dominance of the art academy as a legitimizing site of training, and evacuated concepts of artistic genius and technical accomplishment. I end the talk by connecting the amateur art activity of the socialist period with the experimental art practices of the Reform period, asking how the mantle of avant-garde practices was passed from the revolutionary guard to its political and cultural dissidents.

Speaker: Angie Baecker 

Angie Baecker is a lecturer in the Department of Art History at the University of Hong Kong. Her research focuses on the cultural and material history of Maoist China, the politics of aesthetic, and the postsocialist legacy in contemporary China. She received her PhD in 2020 from the University of Michigan, and holds a master’s degree in modern Chinese literature from Tsinghua University.