Quincy Ngan

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Photo of Quincy Ngan
Visiting Assistant Professor
208 ABW

Academic Areas

Research Interests

Art of pre-modern and contemporary China; traditional Chinese painting; the materiality of colors and pigments; representations of skin in Asian art; East Asian race, gender, and sexuality

Currently, I am writing a book titled The Materiality of Azurite Blue and Malachite Green in the Age of the Chinese Colorist Qiu Ying. This manuscript, which began as my doctoral dissertation in Art History at University of Chicago, addresses an historiographical lacuna and bias in the field of Chinese painting – that color is secondary to ink and brushwork. Despite recent efforts in conservation, use of scientific methods to identify pigments, and reconstruction of historical dyeing methods, few scholars have explored how the materiality of pigment informs our study of the contents and contexts of Chinese painting. Focused on the oeuvre of the famous but understudied colorist Qiu Ying (ca. 1498-1552), my book expounds on how azurite blue and its connatural counterpart, malachite green—two of the most expensive and versatile pigments in traditional China—conditioned the meaning of Qiu’s paintings. My approach is threefold: first, I reconstruct the worldview of these minerals; second, I observe how Qiu appropriated their symbolic value to enrich the meaning of pictorial motifs; and third, I corroborate my findings with works by painters prior and contemporary to Qiu. My research reveals that, for thousands of years in China, azurite and malachite were costly pigments, literary tropes of rarity and otherworldliness, precious commodities subject to taxation, and potent alchemical ingredients and medicines. The extent to which taxation on the two minerals, together with their medicinal efficacies, intertwined with society was so profound that the minerals even became conduits for communication between artists and viewers of Qiu’s time. This book presents the most encyclopedic socio-economic history of azurite and malachite in traditional China, and demonstrates how they shaped the course of Chinese art history as significantly as any masters or patrons.

As a scholar interested in body, race, and sexuality, I have developed a second project on representations of human skin in traditional and contemporary Chinese art. By elucidating the Chinese obsession with, and fantasy of, a white complexion in the depiction of court ladies and beautiful women in traditional Chinese painting, I seek to trace the cultural roots of the skin-whitening craze prevalent in contemporary China. This project helps document the changing economy and politics of having white skin. Since 2015, I have also been researching the contemporary Chinese sculptor Xiang Jing (b. 1968), focusing on how the notion of skin is made manifest by her reiterative process of molding and casting as well as her figures’ surrealistic coloration.

Since 2016, I have worked with the University of Iowa Museum of Art, providing advice on acquisition, selecting objects for display, and composing catalogs and exhibit labels. My first exhibition, cocurated with the Curator of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, features 21 works by 19th century Japanese print artists from the museum’s collection. Titled Men, Women and Japanese Woodblock Prints, the show is open to the public and will be used as teaching material for Spring 2019.

Classes Taught:

Asian Art and Culture
Asian Art and Culture (Online)
Introduction to the Art of China
Introduction to the Art of Japan
Chinese Painting and Culture
Gender and Sexuality in Asian Art
Contemporary Art and Culture in China


“The Significance of Azurite Blue in Two Ming Dynasty Birthday Portraits,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 53 (2018): 46-62.

“Skin and Dematerialization of the Body in Xiang Jing’s (b. 1968) Figure Sculptures,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art 17.4 (2018): 34-49.

“The Soul Under the Skin – A Dialogue between Xiang Jing and Quincy Ngan,” in Xiang Jing: Works, Documents, and Annotations, edited by Xiang Jing (China Citic Press, 2017), 1002-29.

“Secai tanwei – Tan Qiu Ying de shese jifa (To see big things in small – On the application of colors in Qiu Ying’s paintings),” National Palace Museum Monthly 379 (2014): 40-51.