CCA in China: Study-Abroad Students Get an Exclusive Inside Look at Chinese Art and Architecture

Boat ride, West Lake, Hangzhou

CCA's first study-abroad program in China took place in summer 2007, with an interdisciplinary group of 13 undergraduate and grad students led by faculty member Pauline Yao and the Beijing-based independent curator and critic Carol Yinghua Lu. Yao and Lu's insider knowledge of cutting-edge artists and architects working in China enabled the students to get an intimate look at the dynamic, thriving art scene in Shanghai, Beijing, and beyond.

During the three-week program, the group attended morning lectures by a wide array of artists, curators, designers, and architects working at the forefront of their respective fields. In the afternoons they visited museums, galleries, studios, and architectural sites.

"We also gave the students individual field assignments in Beijing and Shanghai," said Yao. "The end results were quite successful despite some initial fears with going out alone in such a large and unfamiliar place."

The group was granted special entree into private openings at art spaces both mainstream and off the beaten path. They attended screenings of student films and viewed new-media installation work at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, and they visited an NGO (nongovernmental organization) working on architectural preservation in Beijing. They also, of course, made time for the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and other major attractions.

"One of my favorite experiences," says MFA student Danielle Colen, "was seeing Pauline Yao perform in a conceptual art band called the Contractors at Borderline Festival for Moving Images in Beijing. They used music and images to describe the close relationship in China between the art market and real estate and consumerism. It was amazing having teachers who knew Beijing so well and were so involved with local artists and curators and could help educate us about the cultural and political issues operating both in the art world and outside of it."

One of the students' most exciting encounters with the new Chinese architecture was made possible through Yao's connection with the office of the prominent architect Steven Holl. They got an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the construction site of the Grand MOMA housing complex in Beijing, one of the few such projects being designed and built inside and out—interior design as well as exterior and construction—by an American architectural firm (most major foreign building projects in China are commercial real estate or Olympic venues).

Says Peter Hyer, an Architecture student: "With more than 80 percent of all the building in the world taking place in China, there is no place more volatile and exciting in architecture. The sheer volume of construction is both exciting and terrifying. The cities of the 21st century are being formed now; they operate on a different scale and under different rules."

Other summer 2007 CCA study-abroad programs took students to Amsterdam, Argentina, Italy, Mexico, and Switzerland. "Study abroad is incredibly important and I highly recommend it," Hyer continues. "As artists, designers, and practitioners we aim to engage the larger world through our work. Since we can never be truly free of our own cultural, social, economic, and physical perspective, it makes this kind of interaction even more valuable and productive."

For more photos and commentary on the 2007 Art & Culture in China course, visit Pauline Yao's photo album and Kristin Murtagh's blog.

For information about studying abroad in summer 2008 or to inquire about CCA's semester study-abroad options, contact the Office of Special Programs at 510.594.3710 or visit