Contact details

The Courtauld Institute of Art

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+ 44(0)207 848 2669

Wenny TeoWenny Teo received a BA in History of Art and English Literature from the University of York (2003), and a MA (2004) and PhD (2011) in History of Art from University College London. Her doctoral thesis, One World, One Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art and Spectacle, supervised by Professor Briony Fer, examined the highly ambivalent relationship between contemporary Chinese art and the geopolitics of spectacle from China’s ‘open door’ reforms in 1978 to the historical watershed of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Her research focuses on processes of modernisation and globalisation in East Asian contemporary art and visual culture and explores questions of national identity, imagined geographies, biopolitics, networked resistance and artistic activism.


Prior to joining The Courtauld as the Manuela and Iwan Wirth Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Asian Art in 2012, she worked as a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, and as curatorial assistant at Tate Modern. She was an associate curator of We Have Never Participated – the 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennial in 2014, and is currently co-curating an exhibition of newly commissioned Chinese outdoor sculptures and installations at the Cass Sculpture Foundation that will open in 2016.


She serves on the advisory boards of Art Review Asia, The Journal of Art Historiography and The Journal of Contemporary Chinese Culture, and is on the editorial board of The Oxford Art Journal.

Wenny's research interests include:

  • Asian art historiography
  • Critical theory
  • Geopolitical conflict and soft power
  • Nationalism and political economy
  • Socially-engaged and participatory practices
  • (Post) Internet art, online dissent and tactical media
  • Grassroots forms of appropriation, subversion and innovation
  • New media technologies and mass communication
  • Urbanism, spectacular architecture and spatial politics
  • Biopower, posthumanism and identity politics


She is particularly interested in hearing from students thinking of pursuing doctoral research focused on East Asian modern and contemporary artistic practice.



Courses Taught in 2014-15


MA Special Option
(Re) Made in China: Appropriation, Subversion and Transformation in Chinese Art (1978 to now

This MA Special Option examines the critical dimensions of artistic appropriation in Chinese art from the ‘open door’ economic reforms in 1978 to the present day. Moving beyond reductive understandings of contemporary Chinese art as merely derivative of the Western canon, it focuses on key historical moments in which both Western as well as traditional Chinese aesthetic models have been adopted and adapted to serve various social, cultural, political and commercial agendas. We consider how acts of faking, borrowing and stealing have not only characterised the wider strategic transformations to China’s socio-economic, cultural and urban landscape over the last few decades, but have also been tactically employed by artists to subvert state restrictions on freedom of expression, information and assembly. One of the principle strands of investigation will be on the evolution of mass media, spectacle and the public sphere after the Cultural Revolution, looking at how grassroots forms of subversion such as shanzhai (piracy), egao (online parody) and liu mang zui (‘hooliganism’) might stimulate a radical reassessment of the appropriative paradigm in art historical discourse.


While our focus will primarily be on work (re)made in mainland China in response to specific social, political, urban and economic events over the last few decades, the wider geopolitical anxieties provoked by China’s seemingly inexorable rise as a 21st century superpower will also be considered in depth – particularly in relation to the institutional and commercial reception of non-Western art in today’s globalised and increasingly neoliberal art world. A further task will be to consider the degree to which current art historical debates on participation, collaboration, eco-aesthetics, post-internet art and artistic activism can be meaningfully brought to bear on different cultural and political contexts.


The course is structured on a series of in-depth case studies that put these ambivalent questions into focus. It borrows from a wide range of inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural theoretical frameworks and methodologies, in order to interrogate the ways in which theory exercises pressure on the artwork in question and vice versa, thereby exposing to critical scrutiny the changing discourse of art history itself in the global contemporary. Some of the mainland Chinese artists whose works we examine in detail are: Ai Weiwei, Xu Bing, Cai Guo-Qiang, Xu Zhen, Madein Company, Huang Yong Ping, Geng Jianyi, Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Zhang Dali, Zhang Huan, Cao Fei, Wang Wei, Hu Xiangqian, He Xiangyu, Zhao Zhao, Song Dong, Yin Xiuzhen, Ma Qiusha, Li Liao, Xu Tan, Song Ta and Li Jinghu. While the focus is predominantly on mainland China, we will also look at comparative examples of artistic practice in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea to facilitate a nuanced understanding of Pan-Asian artistic exchange and conflict in the modern and contemporary period. The course typically includes a group study visit to East Asia, funding permitting.


Language and other requirements

Knowledge of Chinese or another East Asian language is an advantage, but not a requirement

BA 3 Special Option:
Mapping Contemporary Chinese Art: Space, Time and Place

This course maps the critical topographies of Chinese art from 1978 to the present day by focusing on the cultural politics of space, time and place. We examine how artists have responded to China’s rapidly changing socio-economic, urban and rural landscape by looking at site-specific and often ephemeral practices staged in a variety of locations, ranging from the most public to the most private, the spectacular to mundane. We delve into the architectural histories of some of China’s most symbolically charged national monuments and public spaces, and look at what artistic incursions into such sites reveal of national identity, collective memory and cultural amnesia.


We also look at how tactical interventions into praxis of everyday life have allowed artists to evade or circumvent structures of control and power, exploring practices that unfold across actual and virtual space, as well as the realms of work and leisure. As we follow the personal geographies of Chinese artists as they begin to increasingly exhibit and even emigrate abroad, our inquiry will extend to how localised understandings of space, time and place – as fixed markers of cultural identity and difference – arguably lose their critical bearings in what David Harvey has called the ‘space-time compression’ of an increasingly homogenous trans-cultural landscape.  

Forthcoming Publications

One World, One Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art and Spectacle (monograph, 2016) (in progress)


‘Xu Bing, Ai Weiwei, and the (Geo)politics of Canonisation (1994-2014)’(article in an edited volume, 2015/16) (in progress)


‘Of Islands and Prisons: Not-Taiwan, Not-China at the 2013 Venice Biennale’ (Symposium proceedings, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts Press, 2015) (in progress)

Selected Publications

‘Modern and Contemporary Chinese Art: Historiographic Reflections’ Special edition of The Journal of Art Historiography. No 10, June 2014. (Guest editor)


- ‘The Un/Desirable Guest: Hos(ti)pitality in the Postcolonial Archive’ Erika Tan - Come Cannibalise Why Don’t You? National University of Singapore Museum Press, 2014 (exh cat).


 - ‘Cannibalism, Capitalism and the Cross-cultural Politics of ‘Eating People’’ Journal of Visual Art Practice, Special edition on Contemporary Chinese Art and Criticality, Vol 11, Issue 2-3, September 2012. 


- ‘Lost and Found Dogs: Desiring Production in Qiu Anxiong’s “We Are the World” in Hopfener, Birgitte et al, Negotiating Difference: Contemporary Chinese Art in the Global Context. (Weimar: Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften) 2012. 

- ‘Signalling Through Flames: Cai Guo-Qiang’s Language Acts,’ Object: Graduate Research and Reviews in the History of Art and Visual Culture No. 12, 2010.  

Recent Conferences, Seminars and Talks

- ‘From ‘Bricks’ to Clicks: The Semiotics of Subversion in Xu Bing’s Books from the Sky and Ground.’ The First Conference of the European Association for Asian Art and Archaeology, 25-27 September 2014, Olomouc, Czech Republic. (paper)


- ‘Of Islands and Prisons: Not-Taiwan, Not-China at the 2013 Venice Biennale.’ Beyond Islands: Contemporary Art of Taiwan and East Asia, 11 June 2014, University of Edinburgh. (paper)


- The Art of Being A Part: Two South African-born Asian artists in dialogue. The Courtauld Institute of Art, Research Forum, 9 November 2013 (organiser)


- Negotiating Histories: Tradition in Modern and Contemporary Asia-Pacific Art. Asia-Pacific Research Conference, Tate Modern. 21 October 2013 (panel chair)


- In Search of a Pulse: Contemporary Chinese Conceptual Art in the 1990s – A Lecture by Karen Smith The Courtauld Institute of Art, Research Forum, 19th February 2013 (organiser)


‘Shanzhai – The Art of Appropriation’ Design Unfolds – Creative Copying and Open Source Design, Zurich University of the Arts, 25th March 2013 (paper)


- Memorabilia from an Age of Troublemaking – Liu Dahong in Conversation with Katie Hill The Courtauld Institute of Art, Research Forum, 25th April, 2013. (organiser)


- ‘Shanzai: Originals and Fakes’ Art of Change: New Directions from China. Hayward Gallery, 30 November 2012. (Panellist) 

(Re)orientations: China in the Western Artistic Imagination (1960s to the present day) The Courtauld Institute of Art, Research Forum, 9 November 2012 (Organiser and panel chair)


Contextualising Contemporary Asian Art symposium. The Courtauld Institute of Art Research Forum, 12 October 2012. (Organiser and panel chair)


Current Research into East Asian Visual Culture. Conference. Tate Modern, London. 9 June, 2012 (panel chair)  


- ‘The Red and the Grey: On Ai Weiwei’s Social (Media) Sculptures,’ Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world conference, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Dehli, April 2012.  (paper)


China, spectacle, critical theory, politics, globalisation, performance art, Asian art, cultural translation, post-colonialism, contemporary art, modern art, social media, appropriation, historiography, critical geographies, socially-engaged art.