May 28th, Stanley Abe

Title: Imagining Sculpture
Abstract: In his forthcoming book, Imagining Sculpture, Stanley Abe sketches in narrative form a comparative history of sculpture in the West and China from the fourteenth to the beginning of the twentieth century. The comparison is between a fundamental category of fine art in the West and the absence of its equivalent in China. There are few references in Chinese historical texts to renowned sculptors or masterpieces of sculpture. Compared to the lofty arts of the brush—painting and calligraphy—sculpture was considered unrefined and unworthy of praise. There was no great tradition of sculpture in China: no Classical origins, no Renaissance, no neo-classicism, no modern abstraction. The word “sculpture” was not translated into Chinese until the beginning of the twentieth century. Sculpture did not exist in China until modern times.
Of course statues, carvings and figural objects were produced in China for millennia. They were understood as icons, representations, decorations and effigies, and from the nineteenth century some were valued and collected as antiquities. But if figural objects from China are not sculpture, what are they? Is there another way to understand their value? Perhaps not as sculpture but as historical documents? And how might this question help us see the category of sculpture in a different light? These will be the topics of our discussion. A reading is recommended: Stanley Abe, “Sculpture: A Comparative History,” in Comparativism in Art History, ed. Jaś Elsner (London; New York: Routledge, 2017), 94–108).

Ta Ge Chung, Peking purchase


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