Peggy Wang, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Greater China Research Programme Researcher-in-Residence, discusses her process and the materials that inform her scholarship
Part of my research process involves locating key issues, then studying different types of materials to see how a particular issue is addressed from multiple angles. Three especially instructive groups of resources include: periodicals, exhibition materials, and personal archives.
When examining the critical discourses of a particular time period, I comb through periodicals for authors, topics, and images, as well as the repetition of rhetoric and systems of categorisation. For my research on the 1990s, I browse and scan a variety of journals, such as Meishu, Yishu Shichang, Jiangsu Huakan, Hualang, and Jinri Xianfeng. Because these texts served as key forums for communication, information, and debate in the 1990s, even reviews of an individual artist or exhibition shows how an author evaluates, and what they are defining art in reference to and against.
In addition to journals in which these artists and critics actually published, periodicals that were particularly influential for these individuals are also significant for understanding the references that they themselves turned to—for example journals from Taiwan such as Hsiung Shih Art Monthly and Artist.
Like periodicals, I study exhibition publications for what is being framed and how. Because catalogues and brochures were published in limited numbers, AAA’s centralised collection of these is particularly useful, such as publications that accompanied New Generation exhibition, First Academic Exhibition, Personal Touch, and The First Contemporary Sculpture Annual Exhibition.
AAA’s collection of personal archives offers valuable behind-the-scenes materials. In these cases, I track correspondences and photographs that coincide with the period that I am studying. Like letters that note a work in progress, images of artworks in studio also give revealing glimpses into the process of artistic production. Zhang Xiaogang, Zhang Peili, and Wang Youshen’s archives all demonstrate this. Researcher archives—such as those of Hans van Dijk and John Clark—are also especially valuable as they offer access to individuals, events, and viewpoints from a particular time that may not be possible now.
Peggy Wang is Assistant Professor of Art History and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College in Maine, US. From 2007 to 2010, she served as Editorial Associate for the Museum of Modern Art publication Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents. She is currently completing a book-length study on artists’ strategies of sociopolitical intervention in contemporary Chinese art from the 1990s onwards. From April through July 2017, she is a Fulbright Research Scholar at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.