Pausing for a Moment with Professor Jason Kuo

Finding a place to sit in Professor Jason Kuo’s office to discuss his latest research and teaching initiatives betrays the extent of his many current projects. A stack of books on the visitor’s chair, capped by the final proofs for an upcoming exhibition catalog, provides a natural opening. “It should be an interesting show,” Professor Kuo says of the upcoming show, "The Poet’s Brush: Chinese Ink Painting by Lo Ch’ing," which will open in February 2018 at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. This exhibition draws on research in Professor Kuo’s four-hundred-page book The Poet’s Brush: Chinese Ink Painting by Lo Ch’ing (Washington, DC and Baltimore, 2016), from which is drawn the small catalog that will accompany the exhibition.

“You wear different hats,” Professor Kuo allows about the experience of curating an exhibition at another institution, as one must navigate political and diplomatic dimensions to the project that might not be present at one’s home institution. Still, Professor Kuo is quite excited about the show. “It should be beautiful, especially in the new building” (ed. note: Three years ago UMBC opened a new Performing Arts and Humanities building). While the show is on view he hopes to work with faculty and students at UMBC to develop educational components. In this aspiration Professor Kuo continues his practice of teaching to his current research projects, particularly with this artist, Lo-Ch’ing. While he was working on his book, Professor Kuo led a graduate seminar in spring 2015 that developed an online exhibition using the Omeka platform, “Lo Ch’ing: The Poetry of Postmodern Landscape.” Students in this class interviewed Lo Ch’ing as part of their investigations into his art, a rare opportunity that provides fascinating insight into the artistic process and intent and which is preserved as part of the online exhibition.

Another artist who at present holds Professor Kuo’s scholarly interest is Huang Yao (1917-1987), a member of the Chinese Diaspora who lived in Malaysia and who worked with the traditional Chinese art forms of poetry, calligraphy, and painting. This verbal-visual representation was characteristic of artists who painted for “themselves and like-minded friends,” not dependent on commissions or signing contracts as is more often the case in western art. Huang Yao’s attachment to this traditional Chinese art form fascinates Professor Kuo, especially as the artist was a member of the minority elite Chinese population in Malaysia, partaking of this traditional culture over and against the cultural pressures exerted by the majority native population.

While Professor Kuo’s book on this artist is in press and should appear before the end of the year, students in his Second Year Seminar in Honors Humanities this fall semester already are taking advantage of his research and insights. Not only are the students exposed to the work of Huang Yao, but they are receiving an immersion in the various artistic forms on which Huang Yao drew and practiced (poetry, ink painting, calligraphy). The capstone project of their immersive semester will be to curate an ideal exhibition of the artist’s work, populating one of two existing virtual Sketchup models of art spaces on campus (University of Maryland Art Gallery and Stamp Gallery) with a selection of the artist’s works from Professor Kuo’s book.

In spring 2018 Professor Kuo will turn to the theme “Curating Art & Moving Image in the Digital Age” in a course structure that proved quite successful when he first introduced it in the spring 2016. In this course, which is made possible by a Foxworth Creative Enterprise Initiative Grant from the Dean’s Office of the College of Arts and Humanities, students “have the experience of working with a professor thinking and researching a topic.” The Spring 2016 Cohort developed an exhibition of work by artists in the area who are practicing at an advanced age. Titled “Boundless: Aging and Creativity,” the show took place at the Brentwood Arts Exchange just a few miles from campus down U.S. Route One. One of the students in the class created an impressive documentary video of the curatorial process, including interviews with artists, that resulted in his employment with the Discovery Channel after his graduation. Talk about a career boost!

Professor Kuo appears to draw creative energy from these exchanges with his students. He enjoys having students go beyond the confines of a typical classroom to look at works of art and meet with artists, allowing them to have a “more authentic experience.” Peering into the near-term future, Professor Kuo is working on a book project that he hopes to have ready in 2019, one that would appear to draw from his researches with students in his classes. Titled “The Chinese Artist Grows Old,” an intended homage to Kenneth Clark’s famous essay “The Artist Grows Old,” Professor Kuo’s new book will feature three to five artists, including Jao Tsung-I, a Hong-Kong-based artist who is still active at 100 years old! One can imagine the great opportunities that await students, both undergraduate and graduate, in future classes with Professor Kuo that take advantage of his scholarly curiosity.