Prestigious Chinese object program moving to UMMA


The University of Michigan Museum of Art has been selected as the new home institution for the renowned Chinese Object Study Workshops, which offer a vital platform for training graduate students enrolled in Ph.D. programs in the Chinese art field.

The program offers graduate students in Chinese art history an immersive learning experience, emphasizing close observation and art historical analysis through direct interaction with exceptional museum collections of Chinese art in North America.

It was created and has been administered by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Asian Art, funded by the Mellon Foundation, and has been impactful for more than 10 years in the training of future art historians and curators who will concentrate on Chinese art.

With a significant investment from the Kingfisher Foundation, UMMA will use its strengths in Chinese art scholarship and conservation, along with its extensive Asian art collection, to sustain and strategically advance this important program.

Beginning in June 2025, UMMA will administer two Chinese Object Study Workshops per year, providing graduate students in North America and Europe opportunities to work directly with objects, gain knowledge about conservation and learn from leading experts in Chinese art history at partner museums across North America.

The first workshop will take place at UMMA and will focus on the museum’s Chinese art collection. Subsequent workshops will be at museums in the United States and Canada that have substantial collections of Chinese art and have demonstrated experience in mentored and object-based learning.

Workshops are led by two professors in Chinese art, in collaboration with host museum curators, artists, conservators, museum scientists and other Chinese art experts. 

“We are honored to steward the Chinese Object Study Workshops into this next period,” said Natsu Oyobe, curator of Asian Art at UMMA and newly appointed co-director of the program.

“UMMA is a natural home for this prestigious program. Due to our longstanding commitment to highlighting art’s pivotal role in education, our rich history of engagement with China, and our strong collaborations with scholars worldwide, we’re uniquely positioned to foster this important work.”

U-M’s long historical relationship with China can be traced back to 1845, with the university influencing the research and display of Chinese art since the early 20th century.

In 1910, the collection of Detroit industrialist and major Asian art collector, Charles Lang Freer, was exhibited at U-M’s Alumni Memorial Hall — now home to UMMA — before eventually being donated to the U.S. government, where it would become the founding collection of the Freer Gallery of Art, part of the National Museum of Asian Art.

Additionally, James Marshall Plumer was a noted expert on Chinese ceramics and U-M professor from 1935-60. After Plumer’s death, many objects that he acquired in his travels throughout Asia entered UMMA’s collection.

The legendary art historian Richard Edwards’ teaching and research at U-M between 1960-86 was instrumental in advancing the study of Chinese art. His pioneering scholarship on the innovative 17th-century Qing painter Shitao culminated in an exhibition at UMMA that was the first exhibition in the United States devoted to a single premodern Chinese artist.

Oyobe has maintained a strong focus on Chinese art through collaborations with faculty and exhibitions of modern and contemporary Chinese art, including “Isamu Noguchi / Qi Baishi / Beijing” 1930 in 2013, organized in partnership with the Noguchi Museum, and “Xu Weixin: Monumental Portraits” in 2016.

More recently, UMMA’s acquisition of the Weese Collection of Chinese Ceramics and the Lo Chia-Lun Chinese Calligraphy Collection have added more than 1,000 works to the museum’s collection, giving UMMA one of the most significant holdings of Chinese Calligraphy in the United States.

UMMA is the only university art museum in the United States with a facility dedicated to the conservation of Asian art. It has maintained the Robert B. Jacobs Asian Art Conservation Laboratory since 1987, providing the unique ability to care for UMMA’s collections of East Asian paintings and calligraphic works, as well as prints and works on paper, in a secure laboratory space designed for public viewing.

Under the new arrangement, Oyobe will serve as co-director of the Chinese Object Study Workshops along with Jonathan Hay, the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and Jan Stuart, the National Museum of Asian Art’s Melvin R. Seiden Curator of Chinese Art.


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