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Gao Minglu’s Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art

Xiao Lu, Dialogue, 1989, color photograph, 31 7/8 x 47 1/8".

Total Modernity and the Avant-Garde in Twentieth-Century Chinese Art, by Gao Minglu. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011. 421 pages. $40.

CONFUCIUS SAID: If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. . . . Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately.” In other words, it matters what you call things. The ancient Confucian doctrine of the “rectification of names,” a sort of raspberry blown in the face of the arbitrary nature of the signifier, might serve as an effective blessing on this book by the art historian Gao Minglu, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He wants to make sure that we understand the right names for things and use those names in the right way. Although beginning a review

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