The fourth in a series of interviews with faculty, this week’s post is a conversation with Assistant Professor Shaoqian Zhang. Professor Zhang teaches East Asian art history in the Art Department, and conducts research on 20th-century Chinese art and architecture.
Professor Zhang also serves on the Gardiner Permanent Art Collection Committee, which oversees acquisitions for the Art Department and OSU Museum of Art. I asked her some of the same questions I asked Professors Renyer, Piehl, and Titus about how she envisions students interacting with the Postal Plaza, and how she’d like to see the university’s art collection grow in the future. This post is illustrated with some examples of the photography she mentions in her answers, courtesy of the Getty Collection.
Louise Siddons: How do you look forward to using the art collection in the future?
Shaoqian Zhang: In the short term, I am looking forward to using it as a very effective teaching tool. There is a great deal of difference between learning about works of art from photographs and slides and from actually seeing the work in person. The collection will help develop their observational skills, to look for characteristics and features in actual works of art that might not be so readily available in slides and photographs. In the case of objects in cases that permit viewing from more than one side, they can walk around the object and study it from the various sides and angles. It is extremely valuable to have an easily accessible collection like this, to give the students an opportunity to experience the artistic process, and around which many projects can be organized.
I also want to encourage students to think critically about the museum space and the technique of displaying objects; to observe not just the art itself, but also the way the objects are displayed: the lighting, the labels, and the sequence of the displays. Students need to be aware of these aspects of galleries and how different techniques of displaying art can actually alter the meaning of the artwork. Greater understanding can be gained by detaching an object from its museum space in order to imagine it in its original context, which might have been commercial, political or religious.
LS: How would you like to see the collection grow in the future? Are there particular areas you’d like the OSUMA to collect in?
SZ: Since I am teaching Asian art, I would hope for us to acquire some Asian art collections. The original hand scrolls or hanging scrolls are probably very rare and expensive, but it would be great to have some Asian prints and photography. There are numerous extant Chinese and Japanese commercial prints, produced during the 1920s and 30s, which reflect the evolving idea of Pan-Asian modernity. Some photography produced by the first foreigners arriving in Asia could also be quite interesting, as they demonstrate earlier “cultural stereotypes” of Asian culture.
LS: How do you see your role on the Collection Committee?
SZ: Since I represent our Art History faculty, I certainly want us to have art works that can inspire critical thinking and discussion. As the East Asianist, I am hoping we may have some Asian artifacts that utilize different mediums and formats from conventional Western art.
LS: How would you like the OSUMA Downtown (at the Postal Plaza) to change the way you and your students experience art in Stillwater?
SZ: OSUMA will allow students to experience art outside of campus, in the downtown setting. It’s also a great opportunity for Stillwater residents to access and enjoy a first-rate art and cultural center. It will certainly help to meaningfully redefine Stillwater’s urban center. I feel certain that OSUMA will be one of the Stillwater’s most important downtown attractions, as a source of energy and excitement for our community.
LS: What do you find most rewarding about being on the OSU Art Dept faculty?
SZ: I love teaching art history and I certainly love my students – they are wonderful! Being here gives me the opportunity of communicating ideas with my students and colleagues (instead of obsessing over my own ideas in the library. 🙂 It is great being around creative people and having an office just next to the gallery. We have a warm and friendly group of artists and art historians here. I feel very lucky to have this job.