Many practitioners of ‘world art studies’ are sceptical of systematic global models of world art history and of material and visual culture developed by such recent writers as John Onians and David Summers, though such models were common in art history in the past. The article distinguishes two theories of history in ‘liberal’ and ‘radical’ world art history respectively, identified with the historiography of George Kubler and Michel Foucault respectively. Kubler's ‘rule of series’ stresses determined and developmental serial order whereas Foucault's model of ‘conjunction’ stresses contingent occurrence and unintended consequences. Though seemingly opposed, both models can be useful in describing the worldwide topography and chronology of visual and material culture and both have certain limits. The article suggests that they can be combined to yield a model of ‘devolution’ in the global or worldwide transcultural replication of series of visual and material culture – of causally ordered series that are nonetheless not governed by any ‘rule’. This model may be more palatable to sceptics of systematic models of art history than the existing evolutionary models.
1The author discusses the consequences of the academicisation of the social history of art, the way in which a project that was initially a response to pressing issues both inside and outside the academy has become increasingly institutionalised. To restore a wider relevance, he argues the need to open art history to the requirements of a contemporary ‘global imperative’, to play its part in the study of a global field of visual culture. But this is not simply a question of expanding the remit of existing art history. The focus is on the consequences for emergent world art studies of a critical engagement with the legacy of both modernism and conceptual art. The author considers four aspects of this: the impact of the decline of modernist binaries of ‘high/low’, and of ‘mainstream/provincial’, the idea of the autonomy of art, and contrasting definitions of the nature of ‘art’ itself.
This article discusses the process by which contemporary fine art sculpture and installation is fabricated on behalf of a number of internationally renowned artists, as seen from the floor of a New York studio. It is an insider account, which not only outlines the sculpture-making process but also offers a thorough examination of the day-to-day conditions in which art-workers undertake their specialised labour. Various occupational and material hazards are discussed, as well as how the latter affects areas beyond the studio walls. In an absence of critical debate pertaining to the artworlds' polluting practices, a critique is formed which queries the sustainability of large art works that seldom disclose anything as to the nature of their production.
Marcus Harvey's portrait Maggie (2009), which was the centrepiece of his exhibition ‘White Riot’ at White Cube, London, 2009, and Steve McQueen's film Hunger (2008), are cultural reminders that mainstream debates about contemporary British identity are rooted historically in representations of Margaret Thatcher, Leader of the Opposition from 1975 to 1979 and Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. There are obvious differences between Harvey's and McQueen's works. One is a high art object designed to emanate an ‘aura’ in the gallery and for specialist dissemination, the other a commercial film aimed largely at cinema and DVD mass audiences. The looming presence of Maggie, placed as though a monumental altarpiece with Thatcher's face were staring at those entering the space, is in contrast to her literal absence from Hunger save for her disembodied voice played twice over McQueen's narrative in the Maze prison, Northern Ireland. Beyond these differences, this article argues that Maggie and Hunger represent divergent engagements with Thatcher's legacy and identity politics fashioned by the legacies of Empire.
This article deals with revolt in terms of ‘pure politics’ in Alain Badiou's sense. Extending the link between revolt and politics to the question of the subject, it elaborates on subjectivation as an effect which polarises a historical situation and an extra-historical event. The four main ‘subject effects’ discussed are: superego, anxiety, courage and justice. Following this, the article argues that, since subjection is an embodied relation, one cannot liberate oneself from it only through intellectual reflection. Revolt against the modern law, which takes the form of superego, necessarily involves a moment of masochism, of counter-actualisation. Concepts of repetition and resurrection are central in this context. The article ends with a critical reflection on pure politics, emphasizing the role of economy vis-à-vis politics.
This article points to the confluence of dreams and magic in the discourses adopted by two very different art movements that emerged during the twentieth century. The first is French Surrealism, which adopted dreams and magic as a way of translating esoteric ideas to a global spectatorship. The second is the Australian Aboriginal art movement, which continues to use these ideas as ways of explaining cosmologies that remain alien to colonial Australia. Thus dreams and magic become means of cross-cultural translation but, more than this, they make a radical critique of Western materialism in both historical situations. In the aftermath of violent events, in the First World War and in the invasion of Australia, these concepts become ways of contemplating truths that exceed the flux of modernity. Ultimately, they point less to an art history constructed out of the specificity of historical change than to the strategic similarities of avant-gardes wanting to illuminate the potentials of human consciousness.
How do we write a history of contemporary art? Globalisation is frequently identified as a major characteristic of contemporary art since the late 1980s, yet it remains wedded to notions of progress and innovation, as well as to a centre-versus-periphery world-view that presumes the belatedness of those living and working in the alleged margins. This article proposes rates of change as an alternative model through which to rethink contemporaneity, particularly when considering art from the so-called ‘margins’. Of special importance are issues pertaining to questions of medium and genre, both of which might be regarded as indices of the extent to which change took place. By way of a case study, this article focuses on the postwar Korean artworld from 1953 to 1975, a time and place distinguished by the confluence of two distinct, yet symbiotic, rates of change: acceleration and delay.
Contemporary miniatures from Pakistan are a well-known example of a local art movement gaining worldwide recognition. This article aims to historicise the contemporary reinvention of ‘traditional’ Indian miniature painting by postmodern artists by tracing its genealogy from the mid-twentieth century at the Art School in Lahore. Through an examination of the service records of hereditary court painters at the craft-oriented Mayo School of Arts in the 1950s, and of the transition into National College of Arts with an emphasis on fine arts, it explores the subalternisation of miniature painting in the era of postcolonial modernism. Informed by postcolonial theory, the article critically engages with the ideas of traditional art, craft, heritage and identity, to explore their multiple frames of articulation through traditional painting, vacillating from its uncritical celebration as a repository of Mughal traditions to its dismissal as a constrained act devoid of personal expression. It concludes by offering an alternative reading of the communicative act in Indian painting that is integral to a historically nuanced understanding of traditional practice and its contemporary reinvention.
Commentary on Apichatpong Weerasethakul's work to date leaves much to be desired. At best, it affords a survey of his feature filmography in terms of Western art cinema aesthetics, and sometimes of a ‘New Asian Cinema’; at worst, it descends into exoticism. Despite his experimental leanings, and constant appearance in galleries and biennials, engagements from the side of contemporary art have done little to deepen the ahistorical contemplation of his work. This article seeks to contextualise Apichatpong's practice with reference to Thai political and cultural histories, as well as some touchstones in Western modernism. Taking as a starting point his first feature-length film (Mysterious Object at Noon, 2000), the author begins by establishing an ethno-political background for his practice, and follows this with two detours: the first, art historical, explores Apichatpong's putative alignment with a certain Surrealism; the second is psycho-geographic, and brings into relief a poetics of itinerancy in his work. At issue is the question of the moving image's amplitude as a social historical channel; and of what critical purchase an ‘itinerant cinema’ may have on Thailand's fractious political present.
Contemporary artists in India tend to work in big cities and display their work in urban galleries. Indian village people therefore have few opportunities to interact with contemporary art and artists. There are rural artists who are traditionally well practised but unaware of contemporary art. The ‘Sowing Seeds’ art project, which started in 2009, aims to help these artists and their rural communities to learn and enrich themselves. ‘Sowing Seeds’ is a revolution bringing together rural and contemporary art in a five-year project that comprises workshops in several villages in Rajasthan. It invites artists from India and around the world to participate in village residencies during which they interact with the people of the village. As well as developing traditional Indian artists and society, the project aims to encourage emerging contemporary artists. This article explains the motivation and development of the project and describes the participation of individual artists in 2009 and 2010.
Third Text is published in print and online by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.