Reviewed August 2020
K. Sarah Ostrach, Incoming Kress Fellow in Art Librarianship
Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library Yale University
The Guggenheim’s Teaching Modern and Contemporary Asian Art (TMCAA) is a classroom teaching resource featuring 27 East Asian and Southeast Asian artists from the museum’s collection. With support from the Freeman Foundation, an organization that endeavors to promote understanding between the United States and East Asia, TMCAA is a product of the Guggenheim’s Asian Art Initiative. The Initiative and this teaching resource promote transnational “global art history,” decentering the Western canon and interpretation of art. TMCAA aims to “broaden the narrative of art history in the classroom,” and seems to have achieved this goal successfully through its well-designed teaching resource.
TMCAA is a streamlined resource, easy and pleasant to explore. It is available as a website or as downloadable PDFs. At one point during this review the Full Resource Package PDF did not load, though it now seems fixed. Webpages use simple vertical scrolling with expandable sections. The vertical design is uncluttered with a black and white palette, allowing the artwork and other images to pop. The PDF documents likewise have an uncluttered, easy-to-read design that is OCR searchable. All pages share the same visual and content design, so users know what to expect and where to look for desired information across different artists.
Structured without being prescriptive, TMCAA is a helpful classroom teaching tool. Each artist is accompanied by art images, a bio and description of their work and influences, discussion topics, art activities, key terms, and resources for further exploration beyond the Guggenheim’s purview. Furthering the idea of global art history, artists may be collated by their chosen media or a set of overarching themes used throughout the resource rather than simply nationality or language. Crucial to decentering Western interpretive dominance, care is taken to ensure understanding of how artists’ names are written and spoken, including native scripts alongside Romanized spellings and recordings to guide proper pronunciation.
TMCAA is a fantastic resource for K-12 teachers, their students, and engaged parents. The language and many of the themes exploring war, political persecution, and genocide are more appropriate for older children. However, the discussion and art activities can be scaffolded for younger learners. Art history professors steeped in the Western canon can use TMCAA as a starting point to incorporate more global perspectives in their practice or course materials, but they will have to go further to raise the content’s academic rigor. TMCAA is an approachable resource that makes modern and contemporary art and a variety of Asian cultures immediately accessible to English-speaking audiences.
This approachability sacrifices some depth. The resource provides insufficient space to fully explore the religious, political, cultural, and historical foundations from which these artists’ practices emerge. Nevertheless, TMCAA provides launching points for deeper learning. Furthermore, the resource is necessarily limited by the Guggenheim’s collection, and female-identifying and non-binary artists are few. Nevertheless, alongside The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History and Khan Academy's Art of Asia, where a more traditional art historical narrative explores Asian art’s history and less its present, TMCAA is a welcome addition.