Award Information

Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Department of Visual Arts
Shanghai Abstract Art: Re-visualizing the Urban Culture from the 1920s to 1980s

This dissertation explores the Shanghai abstract art from the 1920s to the 1980s, as it became a new visual form of representing Shanghai's urban cultures, including modern science, architecture, and machine. Building on the theoretical framework of Marxist aesthetics, Frankfurt School's social theory, and Peter Büger's theory of avant-garde art, this dissertation adopts social and critical approaches to contextualize the production of Shanghai abstract art against the backdrop of metropolitan culture. Moreover, it explores the issue of how the Shanghai abstract art broke down the boundaries of East and West, as well as of tradition and modernity. To this end, I first researched Chinese and French art magazines and pictorials that were widely circulated from the 1910s to 1930s, such as Chinese Liangyou, Beiyang Huabao, and French L'Esprit Nouveau, Bulletin de L'effort Modern. I investigated the published abstract art images and their roles of (re)presenting new cityscapes of Shanghai and Paris. Furthermore, this dissertation concentrates on the modern art group Phoebus Society, whose members studied modern art in Paris and came back to Shanghai in the late 1920s. The artists integrated European abstract art with Chinese aesthetics to respond to Chinese socio-political reforms from the 1920s to the beginning of the Culture Revolution (1966-1976). Through contextualize the society's artistic and social activities, this dissertation seeks to reveal the overlooked works of Shanghai abstract art in the early twentieth century. In particular, I analyze the abstract artworks of Wu Dayu, who is one of the founders of the Phoebus Society. He is the pioneering artist of Shanghai abstract painting and secretly created abstract paintings during the Culture Revolution. Through contextualizing his works, I intend to complicate the simplified narrative of modern Chinese art that was based on the dualistic model of China-West.