The University of Michigan Department of the History of Art featured Vishakha N. Desai, President and CEO of the Asia Society NY, at its second annual Charles Lang Freer Lecture in the Visual Arts on February 15, 2011.

Titled "The Future of Asia’s Cultural Past," the lecture illustrated how, from the time of Charles Freer in the late-nineteenth century to most of the twentieth century, “Asian art” was synonymous with pre-modern or traditional arts of Asia. Dr. Desai explained that with the arrival of contemporary arts on the scene in the last two decades, accompanied by rapid economic growth of Asian countries, especially China and India, traditional arts are now at risk of being overshadowed by the contemporary art obsessions in popular culture as well as in scholarly communities.

Dr. Desai, who is widely recognized as a leader in introducing contemporary Asian arts to American audiences, focused on the current state of the study of pre-modern arts in China and India, their relevance for contemporary realities, and their future in the rapidly changing societies of Asia.

The Charles Lang Freer Lecture in the Visual Arts series, which aims to encourage a broad-spectrum dialogue on the arts of Asia, pays homage to the legacy of Charles Lang Freer, a Detroit industrialist and collector who donated his collection of Asian antiquities and contemporary American art of the Aesthetic Movement to the Smithsonian Institution in the early 1900s (Freer Gallery of Art).

Through engagement with outstanding speakers from all corners of the art world, the series fosters fresh perspectives on the arts and Asia in the twenty-first century.  The inaugural lecture, held in Ann Arbor in February 2010, featured H. Christopher Luce, collector of Chinese and Japanese painting and calligraphy, and of American photography in “Chinese Calligraphy: Seeing an Ancient Art through Modern Eyes.”