William Paterson University art professor Zhiyuan Cong, a Chinese-born artist who is internationally known as a master of Chinese arts, has received a special honor: an art museum named after him has been established in his hometown of Bencha, a famous ancient town in Jiangshu Province, China.
The Zhiyuan Art Museum, which opened in June 2023, was physically constructed around Cong’s childhood home there, and includes a permanent exhibition dedicated to his life and distinguished career, with memorabilia, photographs, furnishings, and a selection of his artworks.
The museum also features a gallery designed to showcase exhibitions of outstanding works by Chinese and international artists; an art education center to benefit the local community; and a center for visiting artists. The museum, of which Cong is an honorary director, will invite Chinese and international artists to visit Bencha, attend academic conferences, and deliver lectures.
“It is a very great honor for me to be recognized by my hometown,” says Cong, who attended the dedication ceremony along with numerous distinguished Chinese government and cultural officials, as well as scholars and university administrators. “I am especially gratified that the museum will bring artists to Bencha to share their ideas, as well as provide opportunities for the community to take courses in art and art appreciation.”
“I know what a great honor it is for Professor Cong to be recognized for his long record of achievement as an artist, educator, and cultural ambassador by having a beautiful new museum in his hometown named for him,” said William Paterson President Richard J. Helldobler in a video message shared at the museum dedication. “As a longtime and valued member of the William Paterson community, Professor Cong has shared with generations of our students his artistic talent, technical expertise, and passion for Chinese art, American art, and the blending of both forms through the collaboration of students and artists from our two countries. It is my hope that this new museum will also further strengthen the relationship between our two countries by serving as a base for new avenues of cultural cooperation in the areas of the arts and art education.”
Cong, who joined the William Paterson University faculty in 1994, has continued to explore the artistic connections between East and West. In addition to heading the University’s printmaking program, in 2009 he founded and serves as director of the University’s Center for Chinese Art, which is dedicated to preserving and sharing the artistic heritage of China and integrating its rich tradition into the University’s curriculum, including exhibitions, lectures, and workshops with visiting Chinese artists.
His work has been featured in exhibitions that have ranged from local galleries to national and international museums. He has held more than 30 solo exhibitions and been included in over 100 group exhibitions, including those at the National Museum of China in Beijing, the United Nations in New York, and the Olympic Fine Arts Exhibition 2012 in London, among numerous others. His artworks have been collected by the National Museum of China, the National Art Museum of China, Nanjing Museum of Art, American International Group, Inc., and many other museums and companies.
Cong grew up in Bencha, a small town in the Chinese countryside. After completing high school, in 1974 he entered—and his works were selected for—the prestigious Fourth National Art Exhibition in China. His submission—of a painting of women working a harvest machine on a farm in the rural area he knew so well—changed his life.
His work was placed on exhibit in the National Art Museum of China; he also was selected to study art at the Nanjing Arts Institute, one of the oldest and most prestigious higher education institutions in China. There, he was mentored by the master Chinese artist Chen Dayu, trained as a traditional Chinese painter, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art, and became a professor.
Cong's desire to study western art brought him to Indiana University at Bloomington. On his arrival in the U.S., in 1989, he did not speak English, and was initially supported by two Chinese artists, Ya Ming and Chen Dayu. He later received two fellowships to continue his studies. At Indiana, he completed a master of fine arts degree while working as a part-time instructor, teaching and demonstrating Chinese arts as well as making his own works, developing an additional artistic path as a printmaker. His exposure to western art, he says, gave him the "ideal opportunity to compare, develop, and construct a new artistic language."
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