Contact details

The Courtauld Institute of Art

Somerset House

Strand, London



+ 44(0)207 848 2669

Wenny Teo Wenny Teo received a BA in History of Art and English Literature from the University of York (2003), and a MA and PhD in History of Art from University College London (2004, 2011) under the supervision of Professor Briony Fer. Her doctoral thesis, One World, One Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art and Spectacle (currently being revised for publication) examined the highly ambivalent relationship between contemporary Chinese art and the geopolitics of spectacle from China’s ‘open door’ reforms in 1978 to the historical watershed of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing – a period of radical transformation from communism to market socialism, isolationism to globalisation. Prior to joining The Courtauld as the Manuela and Iwan Wirth Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Asian Art in 2012, she worked in various curatorial roles at Tate Modern and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai. At Tate she contributed to two major exhibitions: Van Doesburg and the International Avant-garde: Constructing a New World (2009) and the Unilever commission Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds (2010) in the Turbine Hall. At MoCA Shanghai, she assisted on the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum exhibition Art in America: Three Hundred Years of Innovation (2007), the first survey of American art presented in China; and curated Restless: New Chinese Photography (2006) and Remote/Control: New Media and Interactive Art (2007). She is on the editorial boards of Art Review Asia and The Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (JCCA).

Wenny’s current book project, provisionally entitled Dead Stars: The Shape of Time in Contemporary Chinese Art, explores concepts of change, historical (dis)continuity and cultural memory through the evolution of form in Chinese avant-garde practice from the seminal ‘Stars’ movement in 1979 to the present day. Drawing from cross-cultural theorisations on spatial politics and temporality – ranging from the 4th century Daoist philosopher Zhuang Zi to the American art historian George Kubler – it charts the meteoric rise of Chinese art in the international arena; focusing on processes of replication, mutation and innovation in Chinese material culture under the ‘space-time compression’ of globalisation.

Further research interests include:

  • Asian art historiography and critical theory
  • Critical geographies and geopolitical imaginaries
  • Participatory, collaborative and socially-engaged art
  • Representations of mass political action and crowds
  • The growing influence of China in Africa and the Middle East
  • ‘Shanzhai’ as a subversive strategy
  • Performance art and site-specificity
  • Post-socialism, Orientalism and Occidentalism.
  • Cultural translation and appropriation
  • Biopolitics and the ‘post-human’ condition
  • Artistic agency and activism
  • Space and time
  • Social media, Internet art, video art and virtual reality
  • Globalisation and its discontents


Wenny is particularly interested in hearing from students thinking of pursuing doctoral research with a focus on Asian visual culture and/or cross-cultural politics.



Courses Taught in 2012-13


MA Special Option
(Re)Made in China: Appropriation, Subversion and Transformation in Chinese Art (1978-2008)

This new MA Special Option sets out to examine the critical dimensions of artistic appropriation in recent Chinese art, and focuses on the conflicted processes of cross-cultural and trans-historical interchange that are (re)produced in the articulation of cultural identity and difference. It is designed to encourage students to develop a highly nuanced knowledge of the transformational logic at play in Chinese artistic practice from 1978 to 2008. Students will be introduced to key moments in Chinese artistic (re)presentation in which both Western as well as traditional Chinese aesthetic models were adopted and adapted to serve diverse critical, political and even commercial agendas. We shall also focus on how such art feeds into cultural projections of ‘Chineseness’ in the West and is also fed by them, in what might be considered reciprocal processes of ‘discursive cannibalisms’ that delineate and/or dissolve the fraught boundaries of identity politics in an age of globalization. In the process we shall expose to critical scrutiny what Benjamin Buchloh has referred to as ‘the delicate constructs of compromise’ and the ambivalence inherent to acts of artistic appropriation and re-contextualisation. A further task will be to look at the strategies of subversion, allegory and duplicity which have allowed Chinese artists to negotiate the shifting policies of the Chinese state towards artistic practice on home ground, as well as explore their own subjectivities within or even against the pressures of the international art market both locally and globally.

BA 3 Special Option:
Mapping Contemporary Chinese Art: Space, Time and Place (1972-2012)

This course maps the critical topographies of Chinese art from 1972 to 2012, by focusing on the cultural politics of space, time and place. Looking predominantly at site-specific practices, we examine how Chinese artists have engaged with ideologically charged cultural landmarks, the destruction and reconstruction of the urban environment, the ruins of socialist industrialisation and the new monuments to China’s accelerated modernisation. Our focus will not only be on artistic incursions into public space, but also on the private, psychic explorations of interiority, memory and trauma. Classes will be thematically structured, and draw from a wide range of cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary theorisations. In this, we will seek to understand the key ideological, institutional and critical differences, as well as the overlaps between site-specific practices in the Western art historical and Chinese cannons. As we follow the personal geographies of Chinese artists as they begin to increasingly exhibit and even emigrate abroad, our inquiry will extend to how localised understandings of space, time and place – as fixed markers of cultural identity and difference – arguably lose their critical bearings in what David Harvey has called the ‘space-time compression’ of an increasingly globalised and homogenous cultural landscape. The implications of this on the future trajectory of a ‘global’ art history will be a key point of discussion.

Call for Papers

Wenny is on the Special Advisory Board for a special edition of The Journal of Art Historiography (2014), dedicated to how modern and contemporary Chinese art (from 1840 to the present day) has been written, conceptualised and periodicised. Its publication anticipates the 34th Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art (CIHA) to be held in Beijing in 2016.
Download call for papers


In progress

The Red and the Grey: Ai Weiwei’s Social (Media) Sculptures (paper)

Of Shibboleths and Saraabs: Translating Cai Guo-Qiang’s Cross-Cultural Hieroglyphs in Qatar (paper)

One World, One Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art and Spectacle (book)

Dead Stars: The Shape of Time in Contemporary Chinese Art (book)

Selected Publications

- ‘A Box in the Theatre of the World’ in New Photography from China, 30/30 Press, Hong Kong. 2013 (forthcoming)

- ‘(Still) Life in the Garden City’ Marc Quinn Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Exh cat. 2013.

- ‘Cannibalism, Capitalism and the Cross-cultural Politics of ‘Eating People’’ Journal of Visual Art Practice,Special edition on Contemporary Chinese Art and Criticality, Vol 11, Issue 2-3, September 2012.

- ‘Lost and Found Dogs: Desiring Production in Qiu Anxiong’s “We Are the World” in Hopfener, Birgitte et al, Negotiating Difference: Contemporary Chinese Art in the Global Context. (Weimar: Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften) 2012.

- ‘Signalling Through Flames: Cai Guo-Qiang’s Language Acts,’ Object: Graduate Research and Reviews in the History of Art and Visual Culture No. 12, 2010.  

Selected Conferences, Seminars and Talks

- ‘Shanzai: Originals and Fakes’ Art of Change: New Directions from China. Hayward Gallery, 30 November 2012. (Panellist)

- (Re)orientations: China in the Western Artistic Imagination (1960s to the present day) The Courtauld Institute of Art, Research Forum, 9 November 2012 (Organiser and panel chair)

- Contextualising Contemporary Asian Art symposium. The Courtauld Institute of Art Research Forum, 12 October 2012. (Organiser and panel chair)

- Current Research into East Asian Visual Culture. Conference. Tate Modern, London. 9 June, 2012 (panel chair) 

- ‘The Red and the Grey: On Ai Weiwei’s Social (Media) Sculptures,’ Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world conference, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Dehli, April 2012. 

- ‘Critical Masses: The Ornamental and Monumental in the work of Ai Weiwei’, Ai Weiwei: Contemporary Art from China The University of York, November 2010.  

- ‘Made in China: Qiu Anxiong’s “We Are the World”, Negotiating Difference: Contemporary Chinese Art. Haus Der Kunst, Berlin, November 2009.

- ‘Deng Xiaoping to Now: Art in China since 1978’, THIS IS CHINA, University of Essex, Essex-Jiangsu Festival. Jan 2009.


China, spectacle, critical theory, politics, globalisation, performance art, Asian art, cultural translation, post-colonialism, contemporary art, modern art, social media, appropriation, historiography, critical geographies, socially-engaged art.