November 22, 2013


Festival to open with Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture exhibition

From the live performance of traditional Chinese opera excerpts to a contemporary video installation, from classic Chinese opera films to concerts that marry musical traditions from East and West, the University of Chicago will present the five-month celebration, Envisioning China: A Festival of Arts and Culture.

Running from February to June 2014 and incorporating more than 40 events and exhibitions related to Chinese culture and heritage, most of which are free and open to the public, Envisioning China will take place in venues across the UChicago campus.

The new festival will kick off Feb. 13, 2014, with a reception for the Smart Museum of Art’s Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture, an exhibition of rarely seen works from late imperial China.

The festival continues through June with art, film, music, conversations and performances organized by UChicago’s Center for the Art of East Asia, Center for East Asian Studies, Court Theatre, the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Department of Visual Arts, Doc Films, the Film Studies Center, the Oriental Institute, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, and University of Chicago Presents, as well as other collaborative partners. 

“Envisioning China is an opportunity to magnify a selection of the incredible work on the arts and culture of China that is being done by our faculty, students and professional arts organizations,” said Lawrence Zbikowski, Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities and Deputy Provost for the Arts. “The festival offers the greater Chicago community a wealth of opportunities to engage in the cultural discourse that is taking place across campus.” 

“Performing Images was originally meant to be a small exhibition at the Smart,” said Judith Zeitlin, Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago. “However, as our ambitions expanded so, too, did the opportunities to invite new dialogues about China and make interdisciplinary connections through some wonderful events across campus.”

Chicago-based arts organizations will collaborate with the University for the festival, including the inaugural performance of the Chinese Fine Arts Society in its five-part concert series exploring the Chinese Five Elements of wood, fire, earth, water and metal.

Following are highlights of the programs and exhibitions from Envisioning China: A Festival of Arts and Culture at the University of Chicago; a complete schedule of programs will be posted online soon at

Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture
Feb. 13–June 15, 2014
Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave.

During the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), Chinese passion for opera and theater permeated the visual and material world of everyday life. Opera was at the heart of Chinese social life, from the village to the court, and the spectacle of theater was found not only on the stage—in costumes, props, and face painting—but also across the full spectrum of Chinese visual culture, from scroll paintings to popular prints.

This one-of-a-kind exhibition focuses on the vibrant imagery of Chinese opera. The exhibition showcases how operatic characters and stories were represented in a wide array of media, including ceramics, illustrated books, painted fans, prints, photographs, scroll paintings, and textiles. Featuring approximately 80 remarkable and rarely seen objects on loan from major public institutions—the American Museum of Natural History, Asian Art Museum, Field Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts Boston, among others—the exhibition reveals how Chinese visual and performing traditions were aesthetically, ritually, and commercially intertwined.

Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture is curated by Judith Zeitlin, professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, and Yuhang Li, assistant professor of art history at the University of Wisconsin, in consultation with Richard A. Born, Smart Museum senior curator.

Film Series: Chinese Opera
7 p.m. on Feb.14, 2014, March 7, 2014, May 3, 2014 and May 16, 2014; 2 p.m. on April 6, 2014
Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.
Film Screening Room
Free. Seating is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Explore cinematic adaptations of epic and scintillating stories from historic Chinese operas. This film series mixes narrative and documentary work and includes the rarely screened gem Romance of the Western Chamber (Xixiang ji)—a silent film that will be presented with live music from a newly commissioned score by Donald Sosin.

Yang Fudong: Fifth Night
February 28–March 30, 2014
Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.
Opening reception: 6 – 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 28, 2014,

Yang Fudong’s epic and otherworldly 2010 video installation Fifth Night is a beautifully complex work that tells the story of seven young people in old Shanghai simultaneously across seven screens.

The Five Elements Project: Water
3 – 4 p.m., April 27, 2014
Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.
Performance Hall
$10 general admission, $5 students

The first of the Chinese Fine Arts Society’s series exploring the Chinese five elements, this concert features traditional and contemporary works by renowned composers Chen Yi, Lei Liang, Bright Sheng, and Liu Wenjin, and the world premiere of Huang Ruo’s Phrases of the Stream for pipa and erhu. The five elements are used in Chinese philosophy, art, and science to describe natural phenomena.

Shanghai Quartet
7:30 p.m., May 2, 2014, 6:30 p.m., preconcert talk with Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Music and the College
Mandel Hall, 1131 E.57th St.
$35 reserved seating, $5 students

Celebrating its 30th anniversary season, the Shanghai Quartet has become one of the world’s foremost chamber ensembles and is renowned for its passionate musicality, impressive technique, and multicultural innovations.

M. Butterfly
May 8–June 8, 2014
Court Theatre, 5535 S.  Ellis Ave.
Ticket prices vary.

M. Butterfly is an exquisitely delicate and aggressively original play about sex, espionage and imperialism. Skillfully intertwining the story of Puccini’s opera, Madama Butterfly, with a plot inspired by true events, playwright David Henry Hwang untangles the story of René Gallimard, a meek French civil servant who meets the woman of his dreams in Song Liling, a beautiful Chinese opera diva—who may be much more than she appears. M. Butterfly has become a postmodern classic whose exploration of the sexual politics of East and West continues to resonate today. Directed by Court Theatre Artistic Director Charles Newell.

Pipa Recital: Lan Weiwei
2 p.m., June 1, 2014
Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave.
Free. Seating is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Enjoy a performance from virtuoso Lan Weiwei—one of the best pipa players in China and professor in pipa performance at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. The pipa, a plucked Chinese string instrument, often was the featured accompaniment in Chinese opera. The recital will bridge ancient and modern, featuring Ming dynasty and other traditional works from the pipa repertoire as well as the debut of a newly commissioned piece by composer Chen Yao, PhD’12.