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Jonathan Hay

(on sabbatical fall 2022)

Ailsa Mellon Bruce Professor of Fine Arts

PhD 1989, Yale; B.A. 1978, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Throughout my career, my work has focused on complexity—the relations among the multiple factors that enter into any artwork or art historical process, and how these relations in turn connect to each other. Like many historians of Chinese painting, I conduct research in a range of time periods; more unusually, I also work on other media, including decorative arts, print media, calligraphy, and urban planning. I am particularly interested in taking painting out of its usual artificial isolation in modern scholarship from other artistic practices and the visual environment. The landmarks of my evolving research landscape are chronotopes: late nineteenth-century Shanghai, mid-eighteenth-century Yangzhou, late seventeenth-century Jiangnan, late sixteenth-century Shaoxing, fifteenth-century Beijing, Beijing ca. 1300, and north-central China in the tenth and eleventh centuries. (Previously, I have also been active in the modern/contemporary area.) In addition to my historical research, I also publish regularly on theory, method, and historiography. I take the position that art history today is hobbled by the epistemological deference to Enlightenment philosophy of the founders of the modern discipline, and that a healthy future for the discipline will require a shift toward active dialogue with contemporary scientific thinking and with the conceptual heritages of non-Western traditions.

Recent publications include the foreword essay to the edited volume Qing Encounters: Artistic Exchanges between China and the West (Getty Research Institute, 2015), a discussion of pictorial responses to the trauma of the fall of the Ming dynasty in the prizewinning museum catalog, The Artful Recluse: Painting, Poetry, and Politics in 17th Century China (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2012), and a macrohistorical view of Chinese painting’s development from the eighth to the tenth century in 10th Century China and Beyond: Art and Visual Culture in a Multi-Centered Age (University of Chicago, 2012). Two essays, one on ornament (in the edited volume, Histories of Ornament: From Global to Local) and the other on the visual perception of images (in the edited volume, What Images Do) are in press.

My first book was Shitao: Painting and Modernity in Early Qing China (2001), also published in Chinese translation in both simplified character and full character editions. This study, the only major monograph on the artist in English, maps out the complexity of the artist’s diverse practice through successive focuses on his different social roles as scholar, remnant subject of the Ming dynasty, artist-entrepreneur, religious-philosophical thinker, and private person. By showing one man’s modern engagement with the contingencies of the present, the book makes a case for modernity as one dimension of Chinese history ca. 1700. Now out of print, the book is available for free download on my faculty page. My second book was Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China (2010), a project supported by a Guggenheim fellowship. This book identifies conceptual approaches to the treatment of surface that were shared by artisans and designers working in different decorative mediums. The book is the first to have identified a system separate from taste that underpins the decorative arts of a given period. I am currently writing a book-length study of the tenth-century paleographer, calligrapher, architect, and painter, Guo Zhongshu (928-977), who is the earliest Chinese artist whose life can be reconstructed in any detail. I am also near to completing a book of theoretical essays provisionally entitled “ARTWORK: Topologies of Artistic Form.”

In the last few years years I have become deeply involved in the development of IFA Portals, an accumulating series of content-rich thematic websites that will be made available to the general public in September 2016. For the Historiography portal, I have written a book-length study, “Historical Writing on Art: A Cross-Cultural History.”This evolving text has been used for several years in the team-taught course on practices of art history that incoming MA students take during their first semester. On the Chinese Pictorial Art portal, I am “publishing” a lecture course “How Chinese Paintings See the World,” which traces out the evolving epistemology of Chinese painting over its entire history and in the process presents a new macrohistorical framework for the study of Chinese painting.The lecture course is accompanied by a glossary of around 300 terms, each of whose cross-referenced entries includes suggestions for further reading identified largely by Institute students. Scholarly publishing is changing rapidly in the digital age, and these two ventures are both experiments in new modes of publication.

Outside NYU, I have several ongoing commitments. In China, where I studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing at the end of the 1970s, I am closely involved with the newly established art history department at Zhejiang University, and am on the advisory board of their journal. In France, I have twice been a visiting professor at l’École pratique des Hautes Études and am on the advisory committee of the leading journal, Arts asiatiques. I also served two terms on the international committee reviewing the Collège de France (2011-2014). In the United States, since 2012 I have been a member of a Yale-based interdisciplinary research group working toward a book on the Chinese polymath, Xu Wei (1521-1593). The project is among other things an experiment in a new mode of scholarly writing, since we are collectively writing all the many essays long and short that will make up the book. My most longstanding commitment in the United States, however, is to the journal RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, of which I am a contributing editor. Since 1989 I have published several articles and essays in the journal, and edited an influential thematic issue, Intercultural China, in 1999.

I regularly review fellowship applications for the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and am committed to supporting The Art Bulletin, where I have published several reviews and a major essay; I also served on the National Committee for the History of Art from 2002 to 2008. However, I am not very widely involved in the established institutions of the art history discipline, preferring instead to invent new ones such as the Chinese Object Study Workshops. This highly successful Mellon-supported program makes it possible for two groups of graduate students from around the country each year to spend a week studying a focused body of Chinese art under the supervision of professors, curators, and conservators. Along the same lines, although I have given invited lectures and conference keynotes at many institutions in the U.S. and internationally, I have become disenchanted with the lecture as a format and am much more interested in establishing innovative forums where more dynamic and substantive discussion can take place. To this end, in 2011 with my colleague Hsueh-man Shen I established the China Project Workshop at the Institute. At this very well attended and lively monthly forum, which provides a focus for specialists in Chinese art in and around New York, each meeting’s presentation is only 30 minutes but the discussion lasts for 60 minutes or longer. All are welcome.


Jonathan Hay Book Cover Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China. London:
Reaktion, 2009. [link to preface and table of contents] [order online]
Jonathan Hay Book Cover Shitao: Painting and Modernity in Early Qing China. New York: Cambridge University Press (Res Monograph Series), 2001 (out of print).
Link to book: [Chapters 1-5] [Chapters 6-10] [Appendix]
Jonathan Hay Book Cover Shitao: Painting and Modernity in Early Qing China. Traditional character Chinese edition published by Rock Publishing International (Taipei), 2008.
Jonathan Hay Book Cover Shitao: Painting and Modernity in Early Qing China. Simplified character Chinese edition published by Sanlian shudian (Beijing), 2009.


“Tenth-century Painting before Taizong’s Reign: A Macrohistorical View.” In 10th-Century China and Beyond: Art and Visual Culture in a Multi-centered Age, ed. Wu Hung. Chicago: The Center for the Art of East Asia, Chicago University, 2012: 285-318.[link to article]

“Posttraumatic Art: Painting by Remnant Subjects of the Ming.” In The Artful Recluse: Painting, Poetry, and Politics in Seventeenth-Century China, edited by Peter C. Sturman and Susan S. Tai. Munich: Prestel, 2012. [link to article]

"Who Painted the Qingming shanghe tu?" (北宋《清明上河圖》卷為何人所畫). In New Perspectives on the "Qingming shanghe tu," edited by Palace Museum, Beijing, 2011: 95-102. [link to article, only available in a Chinese-language version]

“Qi Baishi: Three Questions.” In Qi Baishi guo ji yan tao hui lun wen ji, edited by Mingming Wang, 422–435, 436–445. Beijing: Wen hua yi shu chu ban she, 2010. [link to article in English] [link to article in Chinese]

“Luo Ping: The Encounter with the Interior Beyond.” In Eccentric Visions: the Worlds of Luo Ping, edited by Kim Karlsson, 102–111. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 2009. [link to article]

“Travellers in Snow-Covered Mountains: A Reassessment.” Orientations 39 no. 7 (October 2008): 85–91. [link to article]

“Wen Zhengming’s Aesthetic of Disjunction.” In The History of Painting in East Asia: Essays on Scholarly Method, edited by Naomi Richard, 331-362. Taipei: Rock Publishing International, 2008. [link to article]

Shitao: Qingchu Zhongguo de huihua yu xiandaixing. Taipei: Rock Publishing International, 2008. Chinese translation of Shitao: Painting and Modernity in Early Qing China, with a new preface. [link to article]

“Notes on Chinese Photography and Advertising in Late Nineteenth Century Shanghai.” In Visual Culture in Shanghai, 1850s to 1930s, edited by Jaśon Chi-sheng Kuo, 95–119. Washington, DC: New Academia Press, 2007. [link to article]

“The Kangxi Emperor’s Brush-Traces: Calligraphy, Writing, and the Art of Imperial Authority.” In Body and Face in Chinese Visual Culture, edited by Wu Hung and Katherine Tsiang Mino, 311–334. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004. [link to article]

“He Cheng, Liu Guandao, and North-Chinese Wall-Painting Traditions at the Yuan Court.” National Palace Museum Research Quarterly 20 no. 1 (Fall 2002): 49–92. [link to article]

“Painting and the Built Environment in Late Nineteenth-century Shanghai.” In Chinese Art: Modern Expressions, edited by Maxwell Hearn and Judith Smith, 60–101. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001. [link to article]

“Culture, Ethnicity and Empire in the Work of Two Eighteenth Century ‘Eccentric Artists.’” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 35 (Spring 1999): 201–223. [link to article]

“Ming Palace and Tomb in Early Qing Jiangning: Dynastic Memory and the Openness of History.” Late Imperial China 20 no. 1 (June 1999): 1–48. [link to article]

“Painters and Publishing in Late Nineteenth Century Shanghai.” Phoebus 8 (1998): 134–188. [link to article]

“I Ming e i Qing.” In Storia universale dell'arte: La Cina, edited by Michèle Pirazzoli t'Serstevens 468–577. Torino: UTET, 1996. [link to Italian text] [link to English text]

“The Suspension of Dynastic Time.” In Boundaries in China, edited by John Hay, 171–197.London: Reaktion Books, 1994. [link to article]

“Khubilai's Groom.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 17/18 (Autumn 1989): 117–140. [link to article]

Historical: editorial work

Intercultural China. Special issue of RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 35 (Spring 1999). Twelve articles on diverse art historical topics by John Hay, Alain Thote, Lothar von Falkenhausen, Eugene Wang, Angela Howard, Christine Guth, Priscilla Soucek, Peter Sturman, Dorothy Berinstein, Lucia Tripodes, Jonathan Hay, Leslie Jones. [link to volume]

Historical: short reviews

“Review of Boundaries of the Self by Richard Vinograd.” Journal of Asian Studies 54 no. 2 (1995): 208 – 209. [link to article]

“Review of Transcending Turmoil by Claudia Brown and Ju-hsi Chou.” Journal of Asian Studies 53 no. 1 (1994): 160 –161. [link to article]

“Review of Huang Kung-wang by Caroline Gyss-Vermande.”  Arts Asiatiques  41 (1986): 132– 133. [link to article]

“Review of Heaven and Earth: Album Leaves from a Ming Encyclopedia by John Goodall.” Orientations 12 no. 1 (1981): 73-74; [link to article]

“Review of Great Painters of China by Max Loehr.” Orientations 12 no. 9 (1981): 71-72. [link to article]

Theory and method

“Review of Superfluous Things: Material Culture and Social Status in Early Modern China and other works by Craig Clunas.” The Art Bulletin 94 (2012): 308–312. [link to article]

“The Value of Forgery.” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 53/54 (Spring and Autumn, 2008): 5 –19. [link to article]

“Double Modernity, Para-Modernity.” In Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity, edited by Terry Smith, Okwui Ewenzor, and Nancy Condee, 113–132.  Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. [link to article]

“Interventions: The Mediating Work of Art” and “Interventions: The Author Replies.” The Art Bulletin 89 no. 3 (Fall 2007): 435-459; 496-501. [link to article]

“The Functions of Chinese Painting: Toward a Unified Field Theory.” In Anthropologies of Art, edited by Mariet Westermann, 111–123. Clark Institute of Art, 2005. [link to article]

“The Diachronics of Early Qing Visual and Material Culture.” In The Qing Formation in World-historical Time, edited by Lynn Struve, 303-334. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004. [link to article]

“Review of Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art by Lothar Ledderose.” The Art Bulletin 86 no. 2 (June 2004): 381–383. [link to article]

“Toward a Disjunctive Diachronics of Chinese Art History.” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 40 (Autumn 2001): 101–111. [link to article]

“Toward a Theory of the Intercultural.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 35 (Spring 1999): 5–9. [link to article]

“Review of The Wu Liang Shrine by Wu Hung and Art and Political Expression in Early China by Martin Powers.” The Art Bulletin 45 no. 1 (March 1993): 169–174. [link to article]

Contemporary art: criticism and interviews

“Les animaux de Sanyu.” In Sanyu. Paris: Musée Guimet, 2004. [link to article in French] [link to article in English]

“Zao Wou-ki, Lately.” In Zao Wou-ki. New York, Marlborough Galleries, 2003. [link to article]

“Pleasure as Medium: Five Essays on the Painting of Emily Cheng.” In Emily Cheng: Almost Mapped and Charted, 3-9. New York, 2002.

“Mu Xin and Twentieth-century Chinese Painting.” In The Art of Mu Xin: Landscape Paintings and Prison Notes, edited by Alexandra Monroe, 28-39. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001. [link to article]

“Adventures in Chinaspace and Transnationalism.” In China without Borders. London: Michael Goedhuis, 2001. [link to article]

Simon Leung and Janet Kaplan, “Pseudo-languages: Talking with Wenda Gu, Xu Bing, and Jonathan Hay.” Art Journal 58 no. 3 (Fall 1999): 87–99. [link to article]

“Marden’s Choice.”In Brice Marden: Chinese Work, 7–11. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 1999. [link to article]

“Interview with Brice Marden.”In Brice Marden: Chinese Work, 19–31. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery, 1999. [link to article]

Hay, Jonathan and Alice Yang. Tracing Taiwan: Contemporary Works on Paper. New York: The Drawing Center, 1997. Includes the essay “Time Difference.” [link to article]

“Zhang Hongtu/Hongtu Zhang: An Interview.” In Boundaries in China, edited by John Hay, 280–298. London: Reaktion Books, 1994. [link to article]

"Ambivalent Icons: Five Chinese Painters in the United States." Orientations 23 no. 7 (July 1992): 37–43. [link to article]

Contemporary art: editorial work

Hay, Jonathan and Mimi Young, eds.Why Asia? Contemporary Asian and Asian American Art. New York: New York University Press 1998. Posthumous collection of writings by Alice Yang [order online]