Metapictures : Images and the Discourse of Theory

Lecturer: W. J. T. Mitchell


Lecture 1: Iconology 3.0:  Image Theory in Our Time

14:00-17:00  September 6th 

Lecture 2: About Face

14:00-17:00  September 7th

Lecture 3: Sculpting Infinity   

14:00-17:00  September 8th  


Venue: The University of Chicago Center in Beijing, 20th floor, Culture Plaza, No. 59A Zhong Guan Cun Street, Haidian District, Beijing

Organizer: OCAT Institute

Co-organizer: The University of Chicago Center in Beijing

Support: Shenzhen Overseas Chinese Town Co., Ltd.



Registration: The events are free, please sign up via the official wechat account “ocatinstitute” by providing the date of event (0906/0907/0908)+name+Email+ workplace/school.


Abstracts of 2018 OCAT Institute Annual Lecture  

Lecture 1  Iconology 3.0:  Image Theory in Our Time

This lecture will be directly connected to the current OCAT Institute Exhibition, “Metapictures.” It will survey “pictures about pictures” that have served as central examples in theoretical reflection on images, media, and visual culture in the last half century. Topics addressed will include the relation of images to language, perception, and thought, the role of images as historical markers and political agents, and the effects of new technologies, especially in the sciences of life and information, on the circulation and effects of  images.  


Lecture 2  About Face

This lecture will explore the semiotics and phenomenology of the human face, taking up its role as the central and primal object of image cognition and recognition, its status as both a figure of sovereignty and abject vulnerability, and its curious ambiguity (in the English language) as both an object and an action. Topics addressed will include the effect of new technologies such as facial recognition software, the evolution of the face from the portrait to the selfie, the power of caricature, and the face as a metaphor for both honor and shame.


Lecture 3  Sculpting Infinity

This lecture explores the way that sculpture, the medium most deeply enmeshed in finitude and materiality, sometimes attempt to free itself from the limits of its medium to take on experiences of the infinite. Employing the Hegelian and Blakean distinction between the “false” and the “authentic” infinite as the difference between mere endlessness or extension and the concept of the “infinite particular,” the lecture will explore sculptor Antony Gormley’s notion of the mindful object, as exemplified in his recent work, Infinite Cube.

About W. J. T. Mitchell

W. J. T. Mitchell received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He taught in the English Department of Ohio State University from 1968-77 and has been teaching in the Department of English and Art History at the University of Chicago since 1977, now named as a Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor. He has served as a Professor at the School of Criticism and Theory three times (Northwestern University, 1983; Dartmouth, 1990, Cornell University, 2016). In 2017, he was selected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

As scholar and theorist, Mitchell works particularly on the history and theories of media, visual art, and literature, from the eighteenth century to the present. His work explores the relations of visual and verbal representations in the culture and iconology (the study of images across the media). In his article The Pictorial Turn published in Artforum in 1992, Mitchell affirmed the significance of the “linguistic turn” that proposed by Richard Rorty, and prospectively suggested that a similar “pictorial turn” is needed. Mitchell may be considered as one of the earliest scholars in the Western academic circles who promoted the study of humanities from an image-oriented perspective. In later published Picture Theory (1994), he then expanded this concept in depth, and it was also in this book that Mitchell proposed his acclaimed “Metapicture” theory. Along with his Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (1986) and What Do Pictures Want?The Lives and Loves of Images (2005), these three books collectively construct a theoretical framework of Mitchell's image theory and visual culture study. Mitchell's other publications covering various disciplines and topics such as literature, media aesthetics, popular culture, and visual images in socio-politics.


About OCAT Institute Annual Lecture Series

As an open initiative dedicated to research in art history, the OCAT Institute Annual Lecture Series intends to delineate the contour of contemporary thought, reexamine potential histories of contemporary art, and create a platform of exchange and dialogue between the academic community in China and abroad. As one of the essential components of OCAT Institute’s public educational programs, it promotes an approach to research that draws from a wide range of disciplines in the humanities.  

The general theme of the 2018 public project is art theory and visual culture research. In 2018, OCAT Institute invites Professor W. J. T. Mitchell (University of Chicago) as its 2018 Annual Lecturer. The Annual Lecture entitled “Metapicture: Images and the Discourse Theory”which is going to be held between September 6 and 8, 2018, at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing. Throughout the entire annual cycle, the subsequent W. J. T. Mitchell Seminar Series, which constitutes the central component of the program, unfolds in two installments. The first and second seminars“ Images and Words” and “ Media, Technology & Memory” took place in April and June this year respectively, the speakers were invited to our event who have backgrounds in various academic disciplines, including art theory, visual media, Chinese painting, English literature. The exhibition Metapictures will be initiated by the OCAT Institute, and open to the public on September 9th.