Bentley Brown

MA Candidate, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, GSAS

Synopsis of Research in Shanghai (January 6 - February 14):

On June 1st, 1988, New York City-based, Chicago-born African-American artist Frederick J. Brown became the first Western artist to exhibit works of art in the Museum of the People’s Revolution (now the National Museum of China), the second Western artist to display works of art in People’s Republic of China, and the first artist of African descent to do so. Spanning a twenty-two year period, Brown’s retrospective exhibition included over one hundred abstract and figurative expressionist paintings exploring a breadth of themes including American history and interculturalism, Black American identity and culture, spirituality, cosmology, art historical canon, and memory. The research Brown will conduct examines Frederick J. Brown’s 1988 retrospective in Beijing, China, considering how Brown’s exhibition and artwork became a catalyst for China’s Avant-Garde Art Movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which broke away from state-sponsored social realism towards individualistic expression. Today, China stands as the world’s second-largest art market with Shanghai as the financial focal point. Using New York University’s GRI Shanghai center as a base of operations, he will investigate how the contemporary Chinese art market has developed out of an initial push for new modes of artistic expression that reflected the individual experience within the state, which began with Brown’s 1988 retrospective. In thinking of the faculty present at NYU’s Shanghai campus, the expertise Barbara Edelstein-Zhang, Maya Kramer, and Jian-Jun Zhang would be of great benefit to Brown’s research. Furthermore, the myriad resources on contemporary Chinese art available at NYU Shanghai’s library and art gallery, in tandem with the campus’s proximity to the Shanghai Art Museum and China Art Museum, make NYU Shanghai an ideal home location for his research. In addition to his stay at NYU Shanghai, during his four-week fellowship, he will be traveling to Beijing under the support of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in order to conduct interviews with artists present at Frederick J. Brown’s twenty-two-year retrospective, and visit the Central Academy of Fine Arts where Brown lectured prior to and during his 1988 retrospective. He will bring to light a critical moment when an African-American painter, sponsored by both the Chinese Communist Party and the United States government, opened the door of creative possibility for a new generation of Chinese artists, laying the foundation for the Chinese contemporary avant-garde while demonstrating the power of art to dissolve the perception of ideological, social, and political boundaries.

Last Name
Bentley Brown
Fellows Type
GRI Fellowship
GRI Fellows semester
Spring 2020