Chinese Object Study Workshops 2017, USA

Publish Date: Jan 23, 2017

Deadline: Feb 15, 2017

The Program

Sophisticated visual analysis is a hallmark of art history and depends on skills acquired through the direct study of objects. These skills must be taught and practiced. Yet as graduate art history curricula have expanded to include training in methodology, historiography, and theory, training in object study has all but disappeared. The problem is exacerbated for students of Chinese art history, whose graduate curricula must also include language courses and related subjects such as religion, literature, and history.

Chinese Object Study Workshops is a program that provides graduate students in Chinese art history an immersive experience in the study of objects. The week-long workshops (Monday-Friday) will help students develop the skills necessary for working with objects, introduce them to conservation issues not readily encountered in typical graduate art history curricula, and familiarize them with important American museum collections.

Each workshop is intended for around ten graduate students, to be selected from across North America and Europe through an open application process. These students will study and work with a team of faculty and curators from the host museum. Eight workshops are planned for the next four years, with two occurring during each academic year.

The program is funded by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and advised by a steering committee (Jonathan Hay, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU; Stephen Allee, Freer|Sackler; Patricia Berger, University of California, Berkeley; Hui-shu Lee, University of California, Los Angeles; Colin Mackenzie, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Joseph Scheier-Dolberg, Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Nancy Micklewright, Freer|Sackler). The Freer|Sackler is administering the program.


Chinese Object Study Workshops is a program that provides graduate students in Chinese art history with an immersive experience in the study of the object. The workshops help participants develop the skills necessary for working with objects, introduce them to conservation issues not readily encountered in typical graduate art history curricula, and familiarize them with important American museum collections.

Participants in each workshop spend the week engaged in intensive object study, discussion, and research with a small group of other graduate students, two faculty members, and curators and conservators from the host museum. Participants are required to complete assigned reading in advance of the workshop. Afterward, they are expected to complete a potentially publishable research project based on an object or objects they encountered.

The program is open to students enrolled in a graduate art history program (at the time that the workshop is held) at a North American or European university and pursuing a graduate degree in Chinese art. Graduate students from other art history-related programs and/or working closely with Chinese art objects are also welcome to apply. Applicants may be of any nationality and may apply for more than one workshop. A transportation stipend, lodging, and some meal support will be provided.


Workshop One: Chinese Objects Outside of China

Host: Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library
Workshop Leaders: 

  • Vimalin Rujivacharakul, University of Delaware
  • Robert Mintz, Asian Art Museum
  • with Winterthur Conservation and Curatorial Staff

Date: Monday–Friday, June 5–9, 2017

This workshop examines the illusive genre of “Chinese export objects.” From the late seventeenth to early twentieth century, more than 80 percent of objects from China collected around the world belong to this genre. Despite their worldwide abundance, such objects remain understudied. They are often labeled as decorative art or traded objects, and they are seldom included in the history of Chinese art. Categorizing these heterodox Chinese objects may therefore be challenging even to well-trained graduates in this field. This weeklong workshop draws on the depth of Winterthur’s collections and its world-class conservation labs. It focuses on the close examination of these objects and how best to understand them in relation to global art history and Chinese art. 

Workshop Two: Chinese Buddhist Art

Host: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Workshop Leaders: 

  • Katherine Tsiang, University of Chicago
  • Wei-Cheng Lin, University of Chicago
  • Colin Mackenzie, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Date: Monday–Friday, August 28-September 1, 2017

The introduction of Buddhism to China in the early centuries CE resulted in the richest and longest tradition of Buddhist art production in Asia. This workshop is based on the extensive collection of Chinese Buddhist art now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. The collections range from sculpture in stone, bronze, wood, and lacquer to ceramics, mural painting, and architectural material from temple buildings, and they include pieces from famous Buddhist cave temples. Students are introduced to viewing works closely and learn how to look at Buddhist objects from interrelated perspectives: chronology, period style and modes of production, production materials, former/original location (if known), and religious and cultural contexts. The significance of inscriptions is also explored. Most of the workshop sessions take place in the galleries where the objects are on display. The group can then survey the range of sculptural types, view them in juxtaposition with each other, and highlight visual comparisons and differences. Smaller pieces are examined in the viewing room.

How to Apply

Deadline:  February 15, 2017 (decisions to be announced by March 17)

Applications must be submitted in English (PDF file preferred) and include:

  • Application cover sheet 
  • Curriculum vitae
  • Graduate school transcript (unofficial is acceptable). Students from European universities at which transcripts are not provided may submit similar documents (transcript of records, report of studies, etc.)
  • 500-word statement discussing why the workshop is of interest; relevant previous research, classroom work, or teaching experience; and the impact the workshop will have on future research and professional development
  • One letter of recommendation from a professor of Chinese art history in a sealed envelope signed across the flap. The letter of recommendation may be included with the application or sent directly from the reviewer. Email is acceptable if the letter is sent directly from the reviewer. In either case, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the letter of recommendation arrives by the application deadline.

Students are welcome to apply for both workshops in a single application, addressing their background and interest in each workshop in separate application statements. Include one recommendation letter that addresses the two workshop topics. 

Email complete applications to

Mailing Address
Object Study Workshop
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Smithsonian Institution
MRC 707, P.O. Box 37012
Washington, DC 20013-7012

For more information click "Further official information" below.

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