Kristopher Kersey’s research focuses on the intersecting histories of Japanese art, design, and aesthetics. His book Facing Images: Medieval Japanese Art and the Problem of Modernity (Penn State University Press, 2024) argues that in order to decolonize the history of art one must abandon reductive West/rest and modern/pre-modern frameworks. At the heart of the book are provocative readings of secular and Buddhist artifacts from medieval Japan that evince purportedly modern aesthetic phenomena such as montage, dissonance, semiotics, simulacra, and self-awareness. Shorter essays address a wide array of topics: the encounter with Europe ca. 1600 CE, the modern trope of impermanence, death and manuscript culture ca. 1200 CE, theory and historiography, and archival anxieties in the Anthropocene.

At present, he is at work on two monographs. The first, “Art as Metabolism: Fragmentation, Decay, and Assemblage in Japan,” presents a new and less-Eurocentric paradigm for discussing the nature of creativity, cultural heritage, and archival survival. The other, “The Discipline of Vision: Language and the Diversity of Sight,” interrogates the interface of philology and art history.

In academic year 2023–24, he held the William Andrews Clark Professorship at the UCLA Center for 17th – & 18th -Century Studies, where he designed the core program Open Edo: Diverse, Ecological, and Global Perspectives on Japanese Art, 1603–1868. The program entailed three conferences, which addressed transculturality in early modern Japan, environmental and eco-critical art history, and Ryūkyūan and Ainu art. An edited volume is to follow.

His work has been supported by a variety of fellowships and grants including an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, a Getty Scholar fellowship at the Getty Research Institute, an Anne van Biema Fellowship at the National Museum of Asian Art, and a postdoctoral fellowship from the European Research Council (with Global Horizons in Pre-Modern Art at the University of Bern).

At UCLA, he has taught seminars on time and narrative theory, print media in imperial Japan (1910–1945), fragmentation and decay, trans-cultural approaches to early modern Japanese art, and medieval pictorial scrolls (emaki). In addition to a biannual survey, recurring lecture courses address gender in Japanese art, the history of print in Japan (8th c. to present), and modern and contemporary Japanese art (ca. 1850–present).

He is a member of the First-Generation Faculty Initiative and is on the advisory boards for the CMRS Center for Early Global Studies, the Center for 17th – and 18th -Century Studies, the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, and the Center for Buddhist Studies. He is also an affiliated faculty member with Global Antiquity.

Prospective Graduate Students. I am open to advising innovative and dynamic students working in all periods (ancient to contemporary) of Japanese art history, broadly conceived. If interested in the program, feel free to email me directly.


Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley

Recent Publications