The Joan Lebold Cohen Archive of 16,453 digitised slides forms a collection of primary documents about art and artists in and from Mainland China, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, dating from the 1970s to the early 2000s. The structure of this archive follows Cohen’s original organisational system and consists of forty-six boxes of slides. Each box is divided into thirty compartments, with approximately 200 to 600 slides per box, and each box is labeled according to categories devised by Cohen: region, artist, significant exhibition, public art, and everyday life.

AAA selected these boxes from a larger collection of slides taken by Cohen through her travels and daily life. With materials spanning a time when few Mainland Chinese owned cameras and few foreign visitors to China were interested in the emerging art scene, the Joan Lebold Cohen Archive features rare colour documentation of studio visits (including artists alongside their artworks); artist collectives and communities; art students and teachers in academies; local and overseas exhibitions of contemporary art; public murals and sculptures; and snapshots of city views and social life. Altogether the archive provides a unique window into artistic production in Mainland China and beyond (both in the large coastal and smaller regional cities) from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s.

The Joan Lebold Cohen archive was released in two phases. The highlights of the first phase (approximately 300 slides, made available in February 2017) include slides of over fifty women artists, the April Photo Society from the 1970s, the Beijing airport murals from 1979, and artists in Vietnam in the 1980s and 1990s. The second phase consists of the remaining 16,153 slides made available in March 2020. The slides feature contemporary artists and art groups from Chengdu, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Beijing, Wuhu, Shenyang, Xi’an, Dalian, Harbin, Nanjing, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Kunming, Wuhan, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia. It also contains early exhibition and event documentation, including the 1979 Beihai Park Photography Exhibition, 1980 National Youth Art Exhibition, 1987 Chinese Oil Paintings presented by Robert Hefner in New York, 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing, and 1995 Women’s Art Exhibition at the National Gallery. Extensive documentation of early artworks made by Yuan Yunsheng, Qiu Deshu, Han Xin, and Kong Baiji is also included.

Joan Lebold Cohen is a photographer, art historian, and curator who specialises in Chinese art and film. A regular visitor to Asia since 1961, Cohen lived in Japan, Hong Kong, and China, where she was a witness to the post-Cultural Revolution period from 1979 to 1981. Her book The New Chinese Painting: 1949–1986 was one of the first English-language publications to introduce recent generations of Chinese artists to the West. In addition, Cohen’s first-hand reports on the early development of Chinese contemporary art were published regularly in the Asian Wall Street Journal, Art News, and Asian Art News, as well as other newspapers and magazines.

For an interview about her experience in China, click here. To listen to a conversation at Smith College between Joan Lebold Cohen and Jane DeBevoise of Asia Art Archive, with the participation of the artist and curator Kong Chang’an, click here.


191 Folders, 1640 Records