The Digital Scrolling Paintings Project

The Center for the Art of East Asia has created a database of East Asian handscroll paintings in digital format. Handscroll painting is a distinctive format of traditional East Asian painting implying a specific manner of looking at paintings. Meant to be unrolled horizontally and viewed section by section in a continuous movement that progresses in space and time, handscroll paintings call for a special kind of engagement or 006participation on the part of the viewer. This temporal and spatial quality is lost in slides or reproductions in books, but can be simulated in the digital medium. The database is designed to be used for teaching and research purposes with potentially broad applications and opportunities for further development and interdisciplinary uses. Working with museums to digitize their important collections, we continue to supplement the available selection of paintings.

Digitized sections of a handscroll painting are “stitched” to be viewed as a continuous virtual image in the computer. Thus, one can scroll, stop and look more closely, or go back, much as one would experience the actual painting. The digital imaging liberates the viewer from the single viewpoint presented in photographs and slides and creates an exciting tool for teaching and the study of these works of art. It allows the addition of text (and sound) annotations, zoom properties, comparison and linking to other information, along with the scrolling capability. This technology is especially important considering the difficulty of seeing the very fragile and priceless original paintings, which are rarely displayed in museums. We created the prototype for the digital scrolling paintings with the support from the Provost’s Program for Academic Technology Innovation.

Chinese Buddhist Cave Temples Project

The Center initiated work in 2004 on the digital imaging of badly defaced Buddhist cave shrines and their sculptures that have been removed and dispersed outside of China. The project demonstrates new applications of 3D technology for research in the humanities and creates new prototypes for 3D web-based information and museum exhibitions.


Beginning with the Xiangtangshan Caves Project, a group of sixth-century Buddhist cave temples near Handan, Hebei province, in northern China, the Center conducted the digital recording and archiving of the finely carved limestone sculptures. Many sculptures were removed from the caves in the early part of the twentieth century and are held in museums and private collections around the world. As such, they have been isolated from one another and from their former cultural and religious contexts.  Through collaborative research and new digital technology, the caves can be reconstructed and the sculptures can be understood in their original cave settings. The results provide a basis for further study of the sculptures and caves from various perspectives relative to the art and visual culture of their historical period and important recent archeological finds in China. One of the results of this project is the website database of the project. Another is the exhibition, “Echoes of the Past: the Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan,” that traveled to five museums in the U.S. from 2010-2013. For additional information, see the project website:

The Tianlongshan Caves Project was begun in 2013 to focus on the digital and 3D imaging of the sculptures and caves at Tianlongshan. The Buddhist cave temples of Tianlongshan were cut from sandstone cliffs southwest of the city 8.%20Exterior%20Facade of Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, from the sixth century through the ninth. Because of the fine quality of the carving and the relatively soft sandstone which made the sculptures quite easy to remove, many figures and fragments of sculptures were taken from the caves beginning in the 1920’s. Thus far the Project has compiled a database of information and images of the sculptures and caves and traced many of the sculptures to their cave origins. It has created a website for searching and displaying the data and is developing prototypes for uses of new imaging technology for exhibition. The future goal of the project is to develop a digitally based museum exhibition that recreates the lost architectural integrity of these Buddhist cave shrines and their sculpted images within historical and cultural contexts. See the project website:

Phoenix Hall Project

This project represents an attempt to understand new aspects of one of the oldest and most important art forms in Japan and their context, that is, wall paintings and the complex relationships between wall paintings and the architectural spaces for which they were created. Japanese architectural space, from the eighth century until the modern age, was overview3composed of rooms that were defined and separated primarily by sliding doors. The sliding doors were at once both the walls and doors of the individual rooms, and also the surfaces on which famous painters throughout history were commissioned to paint large-scale artwork. These works of art were carefully created in order to function in ways that would be appropriate to the social levels of the inhabitants, to the nature of the building, and to the activities that occurred within the rooms. This project will focus on several neglected aspects of these complex relationships between wall paintings and architectural space, to wit, the kinetic aspect of the paintings and their movement through space, the ensemble function of the paintings and surrounding elements, and the deciphering of hidden meanings behind these complex artistic programs.

Contemporary Chinese Art Yearbook

The Contemporary Chinese Art Yearbook is as an annual record of major events, activities, works of art, exhibitions, and publications of contemporary Chinese artists and curators. In addition to serving as a documentary resource, the Yearbook provides a comprehensive compilation and basis for analysis of recent trends and theoretical developments in contemporary Chinese art. The yearbook is a collaborative project involving the Hexiangning Art Museum OCT Center of Contemporary Chinese Art, the Peking University Modern Art Studies Program, and the University of Chicago Center for the Art of East Asia. The current advisory committee of the Hexiangning Art Museum is responsible for appointing an editorial committee, for which the head of the Peking University Modern Art Studies program, Professor Zhu Qingsheng, acts as the editor-in-chief. The Peking University group is comprised sub-committees whose members include influential scholars, critics, curators, artists, etc. Professor Wu Hung oversees the University of Chicago group’s collection of materials outside of China and translations of sections of the Yearbook into English.

The Yearbook is divided into two large sections: first, documentation of basic facts, and second, analysis of trends and developments:

A. Basic Facts

This section is divided into four main categories: date, place, individuals, and events. Date: This section will comprise of a chronological table of the year, which will be divided into twelve months. Each month will be further sub-divided into ten intervals of time (spanning three days each).

i) Place

This section will function as an atlas of contemporary Chinese art. Different maps will be created to indicate the location and movement of artists’ residences, art schools, sites of major events, etc.

ii) Individuals

This section will be organized according to surname, and will focus specifically on influential artists, curators, theoreticians, and organizers in the contemporary Chinese art community. First, a list of “important individuals” will be chosen and confirmed at the discretion of the Hexiangning OCT Advisory Committee. A special section will also be devoted to the activities of the individuals of the Advisory Committee. Second, a list of “new individuals,” will be composed in order to categorize and track the activities of young, upcoming talent and those individuals with sporadic contributions to the contemporary Chinese art world.

iii) Events

This section will be organized according to event. Primarily, this section will record:

  1. Various large-scale and themed exhibitions as well as smaller, solo exhibitions. The committee will specify distinctions in exhibition mechanisms and standards of organization for categorization purposes.
  2. Organizations. This section will record the activities of Chinese art organizations, associations, academies, societies, etc. This section will be undertaken by the Shenzhen Center for Contemporary Art and Peking University.
  3. Collections and the Art market. This section will analyze and record the activities and conditions of the art market and auction houses.
    Foundations and International Artist Studios.

B. Analysis of Recent Trends

This section follows conditions and trends that have arisen over the course of the year, and will be organized according to varying analytical perspectives. The Yearbook will adhere to a principle of “self-organization” as the connections among “events” arise through divergent relationships. These types of connections can range from an exhibition theme, to a research problem, or even something seemingly spontaneous. A connection will necessarily occur through correspondence in time, location, individuals, or event. However, it is important to note that different meanings become manifest through differing circumstances. When a number of these connections become apparent, they will appear as a trend or phenomenon. This is the greater importance of the Yearbook.

Because contemporary Chinese art activities develop at their own pace, and because the Yearbook documents objective facts, this method of “self-organization” is unavoidable. It will serve as the guiding principle in our subjective study of the relationships that exist among these facts. Moreover, it will help to realize the significance inherent in the very phenomenon of their diversity and pluralism.

By , September 9, 2009 10:59 am

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