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Lecture: The Global Supply Chain of Readymade Dreams // Winnie Wong

  • Franke Institute for the Humanities 1100 E 57th St Chicago, IL, 60637 United States (map)


Professor Wong will discuss her research, which she conducted for her first book Van Gogh on Demand. Wong describes the artistic production process in the southern Chinese village of Dafen, where thousands of workers paint van Goghs, Da Vincis, Warhols, and other Western masterpieces for the world market, producing an astonishing five million paintings a year.

In Van Gogh on Demand, Wong argues that the global contemporary art world is shaped by two powerful ideas: the postmodern assertion of "the death of the author" and the universalist notion that "everybody is an artist." She does so by focusing on an unlikely case of global art production, China's Dafen Oil Painting Village, a flexible production center of eight thousand Chinese painters. Professor Wong spent five years in the field working on transnational trade, and offers a comprehensive account of this "readymade" art. She assesses the full theoretical impact via a narrative that centers on two unique sets of "authors": internationally-active artists who made Dafen village into a source of appropriated paintings and a subject of conceptual art; and the Chinese party-state, which turned Dafen village into a model cultural industry and the subject of extensive propaganda spanning television and the World Expo. Professor Wong examines the encounter between contemporary artists and the Dafen painters whose labor they appropriate, which enables her to explore the critical issues of artistic authorship and its relationship to anonymous production. By examining how this encounter operated within the Chinese government's embrace of creative industries and its attendant production of creative subjects, she offers an account of art practices in a period of cultural shifts heightened by an ascendant China.

This event is co-sponsored by 3CT and the Department of Art History.

Photo by Yu Haibo.


Professor Wong's research is concerned with the history and present of artistic authorship, with a focus on interactions between China and the West. Her theoretical interests revolve around the critical distinctions of high and low, true and fake, art and commodity, originality and imitation, and, conceptual and manual labor, and focuses on objects and practices at the boundary of these categories. Professor Wong has written on product placement in the Hollywood film industry, popular culture and public space in postcolonial Hong Kong, performance art and consumer rights activism in 1990s Beijing, and American trademark law and experience design. More recently, her work has focused on image-making practices at the heart of modern and contemporary encounters between China and the West.

Professor Wong is currently completing a second book manuscript, on export painting in the period of world maritime trade centered in Guangzhou (Canton) from 1700 to 1842. This manuscript situates the work of anonymous Canton painters within the larger Qing dynasty engagement with European painting. She is also co-editing a forthcoming special issue of positions on visual culture and digital dissent, and another contributed volume on the urban history and anthropology of Shenzhen.