Global China: Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art and Geopolitics - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Global China: Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art and Geopolitics

Search for:

Global China: Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art and Geopolitics


Dr Wenny Teo

China’s strategic embrace of globalization following the ‘open door’ reforms of 1978 has resulted in one of the most remarkable examples of social and economic transformation in human history. After more than a century of imperialist subjugation, civil war and violent revolution, the world’s most populous nation has not only caught up with the West, but now leads the charge towards a ‘new world order’. China’s impact on the global economy can no longer be denied – but could it also change our fundamental ideas about art, politics and power? To what extent have these ideas already been influenced by historical connections and conflicts with China, both real and imagined?


This MA Special Option explores the dynamics of China’s global interactions from the early 20th century to the present day through the lens of art, visual culture and critical theory. Rather than think of artistic influence as a unidirectional flow of ideas from the West to ‘the rest’, this course maps out a more complex and ambivalent picture of global exchange in terms of what Rey Chow has called trans-medial and discursive ‘entanglements’ – interrogating dominant narratives of modernism and the ever shifting definitions of the contemporary. We look at how Chinese artists and intellectuals have adopted and adapted foreign ideas, artistic styles and philosophical perspectives as a means of socio-political critique, cultural renewal and resistance; and give equal attention to how ‘China’ has been employed by international artists and critical theorists in the same vein. It examines the impact of wider geopolitical events and technological developments on the production, reception and commodification of art, and looks at how art has been mobilised as both a weapon of geopolitics and a tool of cultural diplomacy. A central area of study is the role of the international mass media and the rise of popular culture, networked communications and user-generated imagery in the shaping of national and global imaginaries.


The course draws from a wide range of inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural scholarship, and students from diverse fields of undergraduate study are encouraged to apply. A reading knowledge of Chinese would be useful, but not essential. The artists we look at include: Ai Weiwei, Andy Warhol, Marina Abramovic, Chen Zhen, Cai Guo-Qiang, Polit-Sheer-Form, Wang Guangyi, Huang Yong Ping, Robert Rauschenberg, Lee Ufan, Anish Kapoor, Takeshi Murakami, Xu Zhen and the MadeIn Company, Cao Fei, Wang Yuyang, Song Ta, Xu Bing. Funding permitting, the course includes a group study visit to China.



Courtauld Course Lecturer

About the lecturer

Wenny Teo (张温惠) received a BA in History of Art and English Literature from the University of York (2003), and a MA (2004) and PhD (2011) in History of Art from University College London. Her doctoral thesis, ‘One World, One Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art and Spectacle’, supervised by Professor Briony Fer, examined the highly ambivalent relationship between contemporary Chinese art and spectacle from China’s ‘open door’ reforms in 1978 to the historical watershed of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Her research currently centres on socially engaged and participatory East and Southeast Asian art, subversive practices, geopolitics, language art and online visual culture.

Prior to joining The Courtauld as the Manuela and Iwan Wirth Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Asian Art in 2012, she worked as a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, and as curatorial assistant at Tate Modern. In 2014, she was an associate curator of We Have Never Participated – the 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennial, and is currently co-curating an exhibition of newly commissioned Chinese outdoor installations at Cass Sculpture Foundation that will open in May 2016.

Full profile

Share This

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Close