‘Space’ in Art History


‘Space’ in Art History

Author: Wu Hung

Translator: Qian Wenyi

OCAT Institute Annual Lecture Series

Published by: Horizon Books,2018

372 pages

in both Chinese and English



Based on the lecture series entitled ‘Space in Art History’, given by Wu Hung and organized by the OCAT Institute, this publication includes contents of the three lectures exploring the concept of space and the development of its application in art history research.

Art history as it was developed in the West has two basic methodological cores or axes: image and form.  Though space is a concept and a term frequently used in traditional art historical research, there has not established a space-centered descriptive and interpretive framework. The lecture series given by Wu Hung was divided into three parts and respectively explored the use of spatial concepts in pictorial analysis, in the analysis on visuality and significance of objects as well as ‘total art’.  Based on previous research by  Wu Hung, this lecture series attempts to integrate and elevate past insights to several analytical planes, thus to elevate the notion of space to a level on par with the methodological concepts of image and form in art historical research.

Apart from three parts of the lecture series, conversations between Wu Hung and Chinese scholars such as Zheng Yan, Shen Yubing and Li Qingquan after the lectures are also included in this publication with the hope to inspire more thoughts on special concepts. 

About the author

Wu Hung is a permanent member of the American Academy of Art and Science, is a famous art historian, critic, and curator. Currently he holds the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professorship at the Department of Art History and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, and is also the director of the Center for the Art of East Asia and the Consulting Curator at the Smart Museum at the same university. He sits on many international committees including Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Council, and chairs the Academic Committees of OCT Contemporary Art Terminal and Yuz Museum. Wu Hung’s research interests include both traditional and contemporary art. Regarding contemporary art, he has curated many exhibitions since the 1980s, including individual artists’one-person shows, thematic group exhibitions, and biennales and triennials. In addition to the catalogues that he compiled for these exhibitions, he has published many influential books and anthologies, including Making History: Wu Hung on Contemporary Art(2008), Wu Hung on Contemporary Chinese Artists (2009), Contemporary Chinese Art: Primary Documents (2010), and Contemporary Chinese Art: A History (2014).


About the translator:

Qian Wenyi is an independent researcher in art history, with a focus on European visual culture from the late middle ages to early modernity and on art historiography. She holds a BA and a MA degree in History of Art from the University College London, and was Associate Head of Public Programs at the OCAT Institute in 2016 and 2017.



General Preface



The “Spatial Turn” in Art History: A Neglected Intellectual Current


Lecture One

Space and Image

Conversation with Zheng Yan


Lecture Two

Space and Object

Conversation with Shen Yubing


Lecture Three

Space and Total Art

Conversation with Li Qingquan


English translation to the above three lectures 


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.


Since the opening of the OCAT Institute in 2015, the Annual Lectures has seen three successful series of programs. Delivered respectively by the French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman, the famous art historian, critic, and curator Wu Hung, and the well-known art historian, archaeologist Jaś Elsner, these three-part lecture series are entitled Image, History, Poem: 3 Lectures on the Visual Art of S.M. Eisenstein(2015), Space in Art History (2016), Euro-centric and Beyond: Art History, the Global Turn and the Possibilities of Comparativism(2017). As part of each annual program, the Institute also organized a series of research seminars and public forums, to discuss their scholarship, curatorial practices, and intellectual contributions. Meanwhile, the former Annual Lecturers, Georges Didi-Huberman, Wu Hung and Jaś Elsner, were also invited to curate related exhibitions—Memory Burns (2015), An Exhibition About Exhibitions: Displaying Contemporary Art in the 1990s (2016) and Sites and Images: Two Research Projects from Oxford University and the University of Chicago(2017).