|Abstract:||This thesis investigates the first major exhibition of American art in China’s reform era, The Exhibition of Important Original Works from the American Paintings Collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (referred to as The Exhibition) in 1981. As a result of the Cultural Exchange Agreement signed in consequence of the official normalization of the diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1979, The Exhibition is considered a major event showing China’s decisive attempt to open up and to integrate with the rest of the world in the post-Cultural Revolution period. As the climax of cultural exchanges during the early reform era and a cultural carnival in its own right, The Exhibition provoked heated discussions and discourses that lasted a long time. The works on display and the textual information in the catalogue also profoundly impacted contemporary Chinese art and the later art movement in the 1980s.
Chapter One introduces the sociopolitical environment and newly launched cultural policies in China in the early post-Mao era, which together made the in-depth cultural communications between the two countries possible. The following two chapters explain how the American organizer put together the exhibition, and how they exploited the crisis that arose when the Chinese officials objected to abstract paintings, to reiterate the democratic principles represented and embodied in the paintings. The next two chapters examine the Chinese professional audiences’ reaction of and refraction on the exhibition. The lasting influence eventually partially contributed to the intellectual movement in art in the 1980s. The structure and argument of this thesis center on the creation and reception of a cultural contact zone – The Exhibition – where cultural communications were mediated between unequal power relations who held different political and diplomatic missions. It is divided into six chapters: (1) Introduction: The First Major Exhibition of American Art in China’s Reform Era, (2) Background: Sociopolitical Context and Cultural Environment, (3) The Art Exhibition as America’s Self-Representation and Autoethnography, (4) Anti-Assimilation: When the Crisis of Potential Cancellation Happened, (5) Cultural Shock – Or Not So Shocked: The Domestic Responses, and (6) Aftermath and Conclusion: A Questionable Modernist Movement.