The 18th Annual Harvey Buchanan Lecture: bringing great art and ideas to Cleveland

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Mon, 04/09/2007 - 23:16.

The Asian art collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art may be in storage, but this past Saturday, April 7th, Clevelanders had an exciting opportunity to learn about ancient and contemporary Chinese Art and a leading scholar's recent work in that area through the eighteenth annual Harvey Buchanan Lecture in Art History and the Humanities.

This year's distinguished lecturer was Wu Hung, Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor, Director, Center for the Art of East Asia, The University of Chicago and Consulting Curator, Smart Museum of Art. Professor Wu's talk,  titled "Absence as Presence: Exploring a Fundamental Representational Mode in Chinese Art and Visual Culture" Professor Wu discussed how Chinese artists have for centuries utilized framing devices to mark an empty space. This empty space is found in ancient royal tombs, in landscape paintings, on personal domestic objects such as mirrors and pillows and in the guerrilla art of a contemporary Chinese artist. There is not a Chinese art specialist among Case Western Reserve University's art History Department faculty, so I found it very interesting to listen to Professor Wu's methodological approach to Chinese Art. Chinese mirrors and pillows are frequently found in museum collections (there are several fine examples in the CMA collection), but museum displays and  exhibitions usually emphasize the stylistic qualities of such objects. Professor Wu's approach was more philosophical and based in semiotics. What was most interesting was how he woven the theme of the framed empty space through centuries of Chinese artistic expression, to the 21st century guerrilla art of Zhang Dali. Zhang Dali creates silhouettes in aerosol and chiseled voids in decaying architecture. From the images Professor Wu showed his work appeared brilliant. It reminded me that the center of the art world is no longer in New York or even the United States.

This annual lecture honors Harvey Buchanan as the founder of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Museum of Art joint program in art history. Many who know Case don't know that Case has one of the top art history programs in the country. A university art history programs is judged primarily by its relationship to a major art museum and an important art library. Harvey Buchanan had the foresight to see the great potential in this relationship and he initiated that collaboration in 1967.

One of the high points of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Museum of Art joint program in art history is the opportunity to learn from real art objects in the galleries of a word class museum rather than just looking at Powerpoint slides in a darkened classroom. And though Case art history students do sometimes attend a slide lecture, lectures are held in the classrooms of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland Museum of Art curators often join the art history department faculty to teach seminar courses based on their research and exhibitions they have curated. Work experience is as important as coursework in art history and Case art history students find many rewarding internship opportunities at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Harvey Buchanan was a beloved professor for many years and also the Dean of Arts and Sciences. Since retiring over 25 years ago he has worked tirelessly as the Director of the Putnam Sculpture Collection. This collection of regional sculpture located in University Circle and on the campus of Case Western Reserve University began with a generous gift from the Putnam family. The Putnam Collection now includes over 30 sculptures.

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