My area of specialization is the art and archaeology of medieval China, with a focus on the period from the eighth to the twelfth centuries. I am particularly interested in exploring the relationship between materiality and spirituality, the interplay between word and image, and the intersection between mortuary and religious practices. As a result, my general research approach is to cross the boundaries of genre studies and examine objects in their original contexts of production and use.
My published work ranges from decorated tombs, reliquaries, to Buddhist cave-temples, and shipwrecks. I have also written on the role of translation in establishing the intellectual genealogy of Chinese art, and the meaning of originality and authenticity in the Buddhist art of China. Among my most recent publications are a short essay on the cognitive experience of manually and digitally reconstructed Buddhist sites (Orientations, forthcoming), and a book about how Chinese Buddhist practitioners exploited pre-existing systems of production to meet the need for multiple sacred objects, to achieve authenticity and thereby to integrate the foreign religion of Buddhism into Chinese society (Authentic Replicas: Buddhist Art in Medieval China, University of Hawai‘i Press, forthcoming). Ongoing projects include a book manuscript, tentatively titled Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Contesting Fields of Art, Archaeology, and Politics, which focuses on the shipwrecks salvaged from South China Sea and pioneers to address the troubled relationship between archaeology and politics; and another book project to explore how text and image inform each other during the process of translation, and the ways in which modern translations of primary and secondary texts mediate scholarly discourses about Chinese art history.
Prior to joining the faculty of IFA-NYU, I held several curatorial positions in Taiwan, the U.S., and the U.K., and organized exhibitions ranging from the forgotten nomadic dynasty of Liao to contemporary China. My past exhibitions include: Contemporary Chinese Art at the National Museums Scotland (Edinburgh, 2008), Schätze der Liao: Chinas vergessene Nomadendynastie (907-1125) (Cologne and Zurich, 2007), Gilded Splendor: Treasures of China’s Liao Empire (907-1126) (New York, 2006), Sacred Words (Edinburgh, 2006), Beyond Time – Image of China: Photographs by Chih-liang Cheng (San Francisco, 2006), Fragrance of the Past: Chinese Calligraphy and Painting by Ch’ung-ho Chang Frankel and Friends (co-curator; Seattle, 2006).
My curatorial experiences allowed me to fully appreciate the importance of combining fieldwork in the museum and lecture/seminar in the classroom. They also guided my attention to an object-oriented approach to the history of art in China. Thus, as a faculty member of the IFA, I remain active as curatorial collaborator and continue organizing exhibitions related to or derived from my own research. Since 2013 I have been serving as consultant and co-organizer of the Getty exhibition Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road, scheduled to open in May 2016. As the first major art historical and conservation-related exhibition in the U.S. to focus on Dunhuang, this exhibition features conservation of the site, and the confluence of artistic traditions at Dunhuang in relation to the ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity along the ancient Silk Road. Moreover, it highlights the importance of replication as an act of devotion that generates merit, enacts spiritual encounter, and assists in the dissemination of the Buddhist faith.
Over the years I have actively engaged in a variety of international projects and scholarly networks across the continents. Between 2002 and 2005 I participated in a project led by Heidelberg Academy, Heidelberg University, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to research Buddhist stone inscriptions in North China. In 2008-2009 I was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin). While a fellow there, I was invited to lecture in Berlin, Taipei, and Chicago. In 2011, I delivered the Elsley Zeitlyn Lecture on Chinese Archaeology and Culture at the British Academy in London. From 2010-2012, I served as Co-principal Investigator of a collaborative research project for the study of Tang-dynasty Buddhist cave-temples in Sichuan. Members of the project came from Academia Sinica in Taiwan, Tsinghua University in Beijing, and several museums in Sichuan province of China.
In addition to offering lectures, colloquia, and seminars, my teaching at the IFA involves supervision of dissertations, theses, and qualifying papers. In the past six years since I joined the IFA, two qualifying papers and three M.A. theses have been completed under my supervision. I also sit on the PhD examination committees and dissertation committees at IFA-NYU and other universities, including Bard Graduate Center, the University of Chicago and Columbia University.
I regularly serve as reviewer of leading academic journals, such as Ars Orientalis, Archives of Asian Art, and Art History. In 2011 I was external evaluator for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and then in 2014 I reviewed scholarly works submitted for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), a national exercise to assess the quality of research in U.K. higher education institutions. My contribution to the field also includes organization of academic events. Since 2010, I have been co-organizer with Professor Jonathan Hay of the monthly IFA-China Project Workshop – a forum that allows specialists within and beyond the U.S. to meet regularly and engage in informed discussions about the latest developments in the field. Outside of IFA-NYU, I co-organized two international conferences with colleagues in the U.K.; one was China in the Context of Globalization: Conference on Art and Translation (University of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2011), and the other was Thoughts and Things in China: International Conference in Honour of Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 2013).