UC Professor Pat Berger is named winner of the 2008 Shimada Prize for an outstanding publication on the history of East Asian art

December 15, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC. - The winner of the eighth biennial competition of the Shimada Prize for an outstanding publication on the history of East Asian art was presented to Patricia Berger on December 11th at the Freer's Meyer Auditorium, for her publication, "Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China," published by the University of Hawai'i Press (2003). During the presentation, Berger briefly discussed her research and signed copies of the publication following the event.

Pat Berger

The prize is awarded by the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and The Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies in Kyoto, Japan. The distinguished award was established in 1992 to honor Professor Shimada Shujiro, whose enormous contributions to the research of Chinese and Japanese painting and calligraphy are recognized internationally.

Berger received the 2008 Shimada Prize for her novel approach to the study of art and architecture produced during China's Qianlong reign (1735-95). In her book, Berger analyzes Qianlong's patronage of Buddhist art, which was subtly orchestrated as a means of projecting and harmonizing multiple facets of his rulership, especially in his relations with his newly acquired domains in inner Asia. The book also discusses the religious practices and artistic styles drawn from Han Chinese, Manchu, Mongol and Tibetan traditions.

Previous scholarly analyses focused on Qianlong's cynical religious beliefs to maintain power; however, Berger's new research reveals that concepts of illusion and reality at the heart of Buddhist doctrine and Vajrayana meditative practice profoundly shaped Qianlong's complex identity and his statecraft. In addition to making a major contribution to the understanding of religion and political history of the Qing period, "Empire of Emptiness" illuminates the relationship between Qianlong's absorption in Buddhism and his obsession with art collecting and producing copies of ancient works of art.

Berger is "shocked and delighted" at being selected for the prize. Her "shock" is partly due to her characteristic modesty, but is also due, she says, to the fact that her book deals with a relatively obscure topic that has not been intellectually "fashionable" since the early 20th century. Her own foray into the world of Qing material in Tibet was the product of a series of chance events, including the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which damaged many pieces in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco's collection. As the Curator of Chinese Art at the time, Berger was in charge of investing the insurance money and ended up buying Qing material because it was on the market at that point in time.

Berger received her bachelor's degree from Cornell University and her master's degree and doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley in 1980. She joined the faculty in 1997, and currently serves as the department chair and associate professor of Chinese art. Berger also held positions at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and professorships at Oberlin College and the University of Southern California.

Berger has co-authored a series of exhibition catalogs on Buddhist art in China and Inner Asia, including: "Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism," (University of Hawai'i Press, 1994), "Mongolia: The Legacy of Chinggis Khan" (Thames and Hudson, 1995), "Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World" (Bowers Museum of Art, 2003) and "Three Emperors: Art and Power in Qing-dynasty China" (Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006).

The award selection committee consisted of an international panel of distinguished scholars, including Dame Professor Jessica Rawson, chair warden, Merton College, University of Oxford; Robert D. Mowry, Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University; Robert E. Harrist Jr., chairman, Jane and Leopold Swergold Professor of Chinese Art History, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University; and Yukio Lippit, assistant professor, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University.