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Made to Order

Hood exhibition of Asian art complements art history course

Having a world-class museum at your fingertips is certainly beneficial to studying art and art history. And when that museum brings a special exhibition to Hanover that perfectly connects with course material, it's a sublime teaching opportunity as well.

The Hood Museum exhibition, Past in Reverse: Contemporary Art of East Asia, displays works by 20 current artists, which is just the topic of Allen Hockley's art history course, Contemporary Arts of Asia.

Mike Salter '06 (left) and Rose McClendon '06 at the Hood exhibition Past in Reverse: Contemporary Art of East Asia
Mike Salter '06 (left) and Rose McClendon '06 at the Hood exhibition Past in Reverse: Contemporary Art of East Asia. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

"I use the Hood all the time in my teaching," says Hockley, associate professor of art history. "But it's only every five years or so that a special exhibition corresponds to my field of interest in Asian art."

Hockley learned that "Past in Reverse" was coming to Dartmouth about two years ago, and he started researching the artists represented in the show. When it opened in January, he was excited to see the works he had studied, and his enthusiasm has rubbed off on his students.

Rose McClendon '06, an art history major in Hockley's class, says she is lucky to be able to take this class. "To be in direct contact with actual art objects, as opposed to only knowing them through reproductions, adds a great deal to this course," she says. "This is even more the case with modern art installations; here you are capturing the spatial experience as well."

Past in Reverse, organized by the San Diego Museum of Art, features artists from Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, who use the past to comment on the present, says Hockley. They employ various media, including painting, sculpture, photographs, and video, sometimes using traditional material in startling new ways. For instance, one work uses images from ancient Chinese paintings in photographs of modern scenes; another work employs gunpowder as a substitute for ink in a drawing. Hockley credits a great deal of the exhibition's popularity among students to the fact that it is about current life.

"It's providing access to East Asian cultures and ideas," he says. "It's exploring themes that are important to our students, like identity and globalization."

Evidence of the appeal of Past in Reverse is the fact that the opening reception for students broke attendance records with more than 400 people at the event. The gallery talks, targeted to both students and community members, have also drawn many attendees. McClendon says that the programming connected to the show is icing on the cake.

"In addition to the actual show, the lectures associated with the exhibition have been indispensable to me as an art history student," she says. "We've had the opportunity to hear the curator from San Diego, the director of the Asia Society in New York, and a Chinese artist speak about the exhibition and on their work in the field of contemporary art."

Studio art major Michael Salter, also a member of the class of 2006 who is taking Hockley's course, thinks that the exhibition brings the course to life.

"I feel like I have a much better understanding of the process and the effect of these pieces, being able to see them closely in a museum space," he says. "It's also having an impact on my studio work. A lot of the work I look at tends to infiltrate the art I make, whether I like it or not. The patterning and the colors in the exhibition have started to appear in my art." 

Past in Reverse also provides the framework for the course's primary research assignment-a virtual exhibition curated by the students.

"The Hood's exhibition is the inspiration; students are using it as a starting point to find other current Asian artists, and mock up their own museum experience. It provides an introduction to art historical research as it is often applied in a professional setting," says Hockley. "It's a nice culminating experience for the course."

By SUSAN KNAPP

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Last Updated: 12/17/08