“Mixed Messages” utilizes creative curating

A new exhibit sponsored by the Chinese and Asian studies departments opened in Dittmann Center’s Flaten Art Museum on Nov. 1. The show, “Mixed Messages: 20th Century Chinese Prints,” explores the transition “from Confucianism through Communism to Consumerism” in China during the 20th century, according to the St. Olaf website. Professors Karil Kucera art history and Asian studies and Ka Wong Chinese and Asian studies co-curated the exhibit with help from their Visual Culture in Modern China and Foreign Language Across the Curriculum classes.

Traveling clockwise around the gallery, a viewer observes an evolution in the prints: traditionalism of the early 20th century, a transitional period in the 1910s, mid-century political criticism and propaganda, mixed messages from the 1960s and late-20th century modernism. The chosen prints effectively capture the political and cultural foci of each period and map a shift from intense nationalism to tentative globalization in the rapidly developing country.

“All of the works in the show were donated by Professor Emeritus Richard Bodman and his wife Hongyuan Lang,” Kucera said. “He collected the works over the course of the 1980s and 1990s during his visits to China.”

Bodman, whose focus at St. Olaf was Chinese language and literature, donated the works in 2011; this was when Kucera began planning the exhibition that opened two years later.

Bringing in their students as co-curators has allowed Kucera and Wong to spread out responsibilities among many people.

“Professor Wong and I worked on the initial selection of works,” Kucera said. “The students worked on exhibition labels, which [Director of Flaten Art Museum] Jane Becker Nelson and I then edited.”

Kucera and Wong’s students also played a role in designing the exhibit’s layout. “[My students] chose the quotes that are up on the walls, and the FLAC students did the translation of the Chinese titles into English,” Kucera said.

The exhibit’s bilingualism plays the dual role of cultural manifestation and learning tool. Further, the descriptions of each piece help to illuminate the messages of the works by pointing out Communist propaganda and the intermingling of idealism and realism.

The rising influence of globalization on Chinese culture is highlighted in the exhibit through increasing Western influence on the prints as the century progresses. The country’s modernization is visible in the transition from mid-century conformity to late-century allowance for creativity and self-expression, as well as in a mixture of the traditional with the “radically new” at the end of the century.

Before the end of the exhibit’s run on Dec. 8., Bodman will return to campus to give a lecture called “The Art of Chinese Politics,” which will take place in Dittmann Center 305 at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15.

Kucera and Wong’s students will also be giving tours of the gallery twice during the semester and are currently working on preserving the exhibit online by documenting the images. They are also creating a video that, according to Kucera, will “flesh out some of the background on the images” through its historical perspective.

The museum tours with the student curators will take place on Nov. 21 during community time 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and on Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. The museum will also have extended hours during Christmas Festival for those outside of the immediate St. Olaf community. Those hours are: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 7 and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 8.