Now open 'Imprinting in Time: Chinese Printmaking at the Beginning of a New Era'

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Now open 'Imprinting in Time: Chinese Printmaking at the Beginning of a New Era'
Shao Keping, Floating to the Future, 1981, Woodcut Print.

PASADENA, CA.- USC Pacific Asia Museum will be presenting Imprinting in Time: Chinese Printmaking at the Beginning of a New Era. On view from August 11 through November 12, 2023, the exhibition surveys printmaking by Chinese artists from the 1980s to the present and examines the unique narrative of the medium within the contexts of cultural, academic, sociopolitical, and economic changes in recent Chinese history.

From its inception, the woodblock has been given singular priority for articulating social commentary and nationalistic sentiments since the 1930s. The emergence of etching, lithograph, silkscreen, and digital devices in the 1980s added new energy to the medium. Most artists included in the exhibition were academically trained printmakers; however, a few have established their reputations in other media and explored printmaking as an additional aesthetic in their practices.

“Printmaking, particularly woodcut, is uniquely important in modern Chinese history because it was instrumental for disseminating ideologies of the nation-state to the masses from the 1930s to the 1980s,” said exhibition curator Danielle Shang. “It is a perfect example of hybridizing a traditional Chinese medium that has been around for centuries with modernist techniques from the West.”

Imprinting in Time is curated by Danielle Shang and is organized into three sections: the Modern Woodcut Movement, the Post Mao Era, and Crisis and Hope Since the 1990s. The exhibition is comprised of 60 works from the museum’s permanent collection, including several recently acquired works from a generous gift by Dr. Charles T. Townley, and select loans from private collections.

Modern Woodcut Movement

Among all the printmaking techniques, the woodblock is most significant in modern Chinese history for articulating social commentary and nationalistic sentiments. The monumental figure who initiated the movement was not a visual artist but the writer, collector, and activist Lu Xun (1881-1936). In the early 1930s, Lu introduced Käthe Kollwitz’s woodcut to Chinese artists, who immediately embraced the medium for its effectiveness in engaging a broad public. These artists began to produce prints with simplified but highly suggestive forms and figures to depict the violence, injustice, and angst that plagued Chinese society.

After Mao Zedong’s speech at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art (1942), woodcut was given singular priority, and its subjects shifted from social critiques to celebrating the bright new life under Communist control. Subsequently, the woodcut printmaking that hybridized German Expressionism, Soviet Social Realism, Chinese traditional water-based printing techniques, and folk arts’ vernacular styles was established as a major discipline in all art schools and employed largely for propaganda purposes to serve the state after the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Post Mao Era

After 1976, while many artists continued to produce works that celebrated the socialist vision of modernity, others began to explore the notion of individuality and new graphic effects. The rise of etching, lithograph, silkscreen, and digital devices added new energy to the medium. Meanwhile, distinct regional schools emerged, notably the Great Northern Wilderness and the Yunnan School.

Contrary to earlier times when human figures and narrative themes dominated printed pictures, landscapes, and abstract compositions became popular. Some artists intentionally evoked the traditional Chinese ideal of integrating calligraphy, painting, and poetry when combining images with texts.

Crisis and Hope Since the 1990s

The 1990s saw China’s rapid transformation into a hyper-consumer society. As works of art entered the market as commodities, prints failed to gain recognition as valuable cultural products. To survive, printmakers had to switch to other media, teach, or hold positions at state-sponsored cultural organizations, whose programs continued instructing conservative subjects and styles. In response to the new conditions, a few artists have moved beyond technical concerns to search for ways to advance the medium and participate in global conversations. Their practices shine a new light on printmaking.

The Curator

Danielle Shang is a Los Angeles-based writer, art historian, and exhibition organizer. Her research focuses on the impact of globalization, urban renewal, social change, and class restructuring on artmaking and the narrative of art history.

She has organized exhibitions by artists such as Amalia Pica, Katie Ryan, Simphiwe Ndzube, LIU Wa, CHEN Zhou, and ZHOU Yilun, among many others. She was also responsible for organizing campaigns and large group exhibitions for Porsche Young Chinese Artists of the Year and the Net-A-Porter Incredible Female Artist Award. She was a guest lecturer/speaker at USC, UCLA, and Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Los Angeles, and contributed texts to exhibition catalogs for artists, such as Huma Bhabha, Zhou Yilun, and QIU Xiaofei, etc. Shang has been a contributing writer for many publications, including Art Asia Pacific, LEAP, Artforum, and Mousse.


An integral part of the University of Southern California, the USC Pacific Asia Museum creates inspiring encounters with the art, history and culture of Pacific Asia to promote intercultural understanding in the service of elevating our shared sense of humanity. Established in 1971, the museum is one of few U.S. institutions dedicated to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands, serving the city of Los Angeles and the Greater Southern California region. The museum’s historic building has served as a center for art, culture, and learning in Pasadena since its construction in 1924 by pioneering collector and entrepreneur Grace Nicholson (1877-1948) as her residence and galleries. In its brief history, the museum has organized and presented a number of groundbreaking exhibitions, including the first North American exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art and the first exhibition of Aboriginal art in the United States. Exhibitions originated by the museum have traveled across the country and internationally. A leader in its academic work and committed to scholarship, USC PAM has produced more than 50 exhibition catalogs. Learn more at

USC Pacific Asia Museum
Imprinting in Time: Chinese Printmaking at the Beginning of a New Era
August 11th, 2023 - November 12th, 2023

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