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Professor Clarke retired last year after three decades as a teacher in the Department of Fine Arts. Retirement from lecturing has not meant he has stopped working however, and he is currently developing three major projects. The first is his comprehensive online lecture series, ‘A History of Modern Art in 73 Lectures’, which is a linked series of three courses he originally taught at HKU in 2015–2016.

The lectures cover modern art from 1880 to now. The first course, ‘Vision in Crisis’, looks at 1880–1914, starting with a discussion of Post-Impressionist artists Van Gogh, Gaugin and Cézanne, then covering Matisse, Picasso and early 20th century Chinese modern art. The second, ‘Modernity and its Discontents’, focusses on art between the two world wars including Futurism, Abstraction, Russian art around the time of the Revolution, certain trends in Chinese art, German Expressionism, Dada and Surrealism. ‘Towards the Global’ is the final part, looking at art after World War II and covering everything from Abstract Expressionism, through Pop Art and Minimalism to Environmental and Performance Art.

For copyright reasons, Professor Clarke is unable to show the images referred to, but included with each lecture is a list of the art works, so listeners can easily locate them on the internet or in books and study them while listening. He is very fond of radio and felt that if he did audio recordings people could listen like they would to a podcast or radio show, perhaps even while doing other things.

“Like radio, this is an intimate experience, so not having visuals is not a bad thing,” he said. “The series offers a chance for people to experience a little of what a university education is like. Art history enhances your life, so it’s not just a study tool – I hope people will listen for interest and pleasure too. It is also attracting people already studying art history – they view it as another resource.”

Professor Clarke feels the value of the course is its completeness. ”Others have put individual lectures or courses online, but I believe this is the first time such an extended linked sequence of lectures has been shared freely on the internet,” he said. “People could follow the whole sequence of lectures through to gain a comprehensive introduction to modern art, or they can simply dip in and out – just listen to the parts about their favourite artists, or look at it for background before they visit an exhibition of an artist’s work.”

The lectures were recorded over 18 months, originally as a resource for his students. Each lecture as first given was two hours with a break in the middle, but for the purposes of his online series, Professor Clarke has split them into two one-hour sound files as he thinks this is a more manageable duration for listeners. The resource went online in the summer of last year and the introduction alone has received more than 2,000 clicks.

Hong Kong Art Archive

This is not the first online art resource Professor Clarke has created. Fifteen years ago he developed the Hong Kong Art Archive. Mainland Chinese contemporary art was going through a boom at the time, but while Hong Kong artists were doing interesting work it had less obvious signifiers of ‘Chineseness’ so attracted relatively little attention overseas.

“Few artists had websites then and there was little information elsewhere about Hong Kong art,” he said, “so I went out and found it. I have tried to be neutral in deciding what is included in the archive and not make an aesthetic quality judgement. If an artist has had several exhibitions we will include them – it is then up to researchers and the public using the archive to make up their own minds.”

Professor Clarke’s other ongoing projects include a book about contemporary Chinese art called China – Art – Modernity: A Critical Introduction to Chinese Visual Expression from the Beginning of the Twentieth Century to the Present Day, which is due to be published by the Hong Kong University Press in early 2019. He is also creating an archive of his own photos, representing 25 years of Hong Kong from 1995 to 2020.

“I hope this photo archive will be a useful resource for people in the future who want to see what everyday life was like in Hong Kong now. I have an academic, as well as artistic, approach when taking pictures. Photography is like good wine, it matures over time and hopefully these images will develop a rarity value in due course.

“The particular value of photos lies in their indelible link to a particular time and place, and also in their repleteness – that is the way in which information can be found in all parts of the image. This excess of information over and above what the photographer might have deliberately been trying to capture can be accessed by later viewers according to their own interests.”

‘A History of Modern Art in 73 Lectures’

Hong Kong Art Archive


A photo of performers representing judges in the British colonial government farewell ceremony, at the Tamar site for a rehearsal, taken by Professor Clarke on June 28, 1997.


A photo of participants in a pro-democracy rally, taken by Professor Clarke on July 1, 2007.


Art 101 online

A commitment to the concept of universities without walls and a love for the friendly intimacy of radio, prompted art historian Professor David Clarke to make a comprehensive lecture series on modern art available to all online.


The series offers a chance for people to experience a little of what a university education is like. Art history enhances your life, so it’s not just a study tool – I hope people will listen for interest and pleasure too.

Professor David Clarke

Professor Clarke made a comprehensive lecture series on modern art available online. Although the art works cannot be shown for copyright reasons, listeners can locate them online while listening.