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China and Inner Asia
In Session: New Approaches to the Historiography of East Asian Art in the Twentieth Century
3: Building the Discipline: Rubbings, Removal, and Restoration in the Early American Study of East Asian Art
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
University of Texas, Arlington, United States
My research examines the antiquarian conventions utilized by American scholars in the creation of East Asian art history as an academic discipline in the U.S. at the turn of the twentieth century through the prewar period. I argue that museum restoration practices and the teaching of East Asian art were built upon a previously unrecognized intersection of antiquarian traditions associated with European plaster cast collecting and ink rubbing in Asia. Taking the Chinese Buddhist caves of Longmen as a microcosm, I explore how this synthesis of traditions became physically embedded in objects during the study, removal, and restoration of sculpture from the site. In turn, I examine how the pedagogical needs of a new class of professionals led by the circle of the early Harvard curator of Asian art, Langdon Warner (1881-1955), spurred new technical transformations in ink rubbing practices and antiquarianism in Asia.
Specifically, this talk contextualizes the removal and restoration of three famous Buddhist relief sculptures from the Central Binyang Cave at Longmen to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and Freer-Sackler Galleries. Drawing upon newly rediscovered archival materials, I examine how the study and restoration of the reliefs embodied antiquarian practices within the final objects. Through the use of ink rubbings, carved and cast plaster, and novel restoration approaches, the sculptures capture divergent notions of restoration and pedagogy at a unique moment in the early development of American understandings of East Asian art.