Category Archives: Texts

Periphery as Negotiator of the Artistic Canon (few comments about Goa and its Christian Religious Art)

By Raluca E. Golesteanu, Polish Academy of Sciences / Humboldt University

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Goa, the province located in the westernmost part of the Indian peninsula (the coastal area), was conquered in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese, becoming a land of the Portuguese crown. Around the mid of that century, the Jesuits started a massive campaign of Christianization. As a consequence, the destroyed Hindu temples were replaced by cathedrals adorned by statues of the Christian saints.

So far this is a classic metropolis-colony / power-submission story. It is just that the artists who were called to design the art following the Catholic canon, albeit some of them were converted to Christianity, kept as reference many features of Hindu aesthetics. The face traits, the gestures, the colors of the clothes bear strong Hindu influences. In fact, the products of this mix, including wooden statues of Virgin Mary and the Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius of Loyola that can be seen at the National Gallery for Foreign Art, Sofia, were considered as representing a style in itself, named the Indo-Portuguese. The information on this display, which is part of the gallery’s permanent exhibition, states that this type of art ‘in its outer form was Christian, but in its inner essence, it remained profoundly Indianʼ.

This expression of a local identity, which, although eradicated institutionally, kept surviving in intimate matters like religion, was doubled by an equally interesting negotiation related to the artistic genre itself. As we mainly refer to the productions of the centuries following the imposition of Christianity in Goa (as we mentioned, sixteenth century), Baroque was a style creatively adapted by the local artists who were far from the places where Baroque art was in vogue. The cathedrals and the statues they were building and carving in the remote places of the province itself were distant from Western Europe but also from the Goan centre that exhibited other samples of Baroque art. In other words, the local artists and craftsmen emulated the Baroque style by putting into play their representation of what was the Baroque art as they simply lacked the contact with the original. The result is a new art that brings its own interpretation of the ideas and values accompanying the culture of Baroque and of the related currents.

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In short, the art of Goa illustrates in the best possible way the dynamics born around the center-periphery equation. Firstly, it is never a simple, unidirectional process; secondly, the imitation, if it occurs, is a highly original one, influenced by local traditions; thirdly, the negotiation by the periphery/colony of the model (artistic, political, social) imposed by the metropolis results in an alternative model. In the end, this alternative model, imbued with local (peripheral) features as it is, becomes a canon by itself, competing with the original.

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Unfortunately, the museum does not have a site of its own, or a page dedicated to this section, at least in English; it is included in the national gallery directory:  http://www.nationalartgallerybg.org/index.php?l=95

The pictures are not perhaps of the best quality, being taken without flash light, but they hopefully give an idea of what has been stated here.

(text originally published in: https://rgolesta.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/periphery-as-negotiator-of-the-artistic-canon-few-comments-about-goa-and-its-christian-religious-art/)

Robert Winthrop Chanler: Discovering the Fantastic

By Gina Wouters, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

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Photograph of Robert Winthrop Chanler, c. 1900, Private Collection

Robert Winthrop Chanler: Discovering the Fantastic, co-published by Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and the Monacelli Press (released May 2016), is the first publication on the artist since his death. Although Chanler moved within a network of well-known artists (he has been portrayed by Man Ray and Carl van Vechten among others) and he received a steady number of commissions from high profile patrons, after his death he was marginalized by an art-historical discourse that centered on a singular path to modernity, as well as owing to practical difficulties regarding accessibility to his works.

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Robert Winthrop Chanler and Hunt Diederich, Mille Fleurs, 1919, Private Collection

The introduction to the book follows the trajectory of Chanler’s ascent as an artist and his fading from the public eye after his death. The fact that he commercially labeled himself as an interior decorator and his preferred medium was the screen –a decorative and thus “lesser art form”– are without doubt some of the factors behind his obscurity.

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Robert Winthrop Chanler, Swimming Pool grotto at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 1916, Miami, Florida

Chanler had a penchant for altering spaces, whether through the immersive qualities his architectural interiors impart, or by way of a movable yet space-defining object such as the screen. The screens are often two sided and represent a variety of worlds, aquatic, avian, celestial and terrestrial. Chanler’s work is largely absent from the public eye, save for the swimming pool ceiling at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Florida and the Breakfast room at Coe Hall in Long Island, New York. These are both complex architectural spaces that present themselves in a compromised state due to the preservation conundrums his architectural works present.

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Robert Winthrop Chanler, Vizcayan Bay, 1920, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, Florida

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Robert Winthrop Chanler, Tigers, no date, Private Collection

Chanler’s dozens of screens are for the most part in private collections, largely handed down to descendants from those who commissioned them directly from the artist in the 1910s and 1920s. Or they are buried deep in museum storage like works in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum and Whitney Museum of American Art. Only the Metropolitan Museum of Art has Chanler’s Porcupines and Nightmares panel in open storage in the Henry R. Luce Galleries.

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Robert Winthrop Chanler, Porcupines and Foxes, no date, Private Collection

Within the art historical context, Robert Winthrop Chanler’s fame lays in his monumental participation in the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, popularly known as The Armory show, which was held in New York City, Boston, and Chicago. His work covered the walls of Gallery A the first space all guests would enter, which was dedicated to American Sculpture and Decorative Art. Not only did he show over a dozen works, as new research in the publication reveals, but he was also an important patron of his European peers, purchasing works by Odilon Redon, Constantin Brâncuşi and Amadeo de Souza Cardoso. As Laurette McCarthy writes, the works by the latter two were regarded as “extreme and revolutionary. Chanler’s acquisition of these works would have been thought quite daring and placed him in a relatively small circle of those who bought modern art from the show.”

The monumentality of Chanler’s work and the immersive experiences they impart made him into a highly sought after artist in his years, yet the complexity and fixity of the architectural spaces and the often times immobility of his enormous screens hampered anyone other than the select strata they were created for to encounter them. Although Chanler embraced modernist ideals during their nascent years in the United States, his work became outdated after the bold direction of post-war Abstract Expressionism left his work out of vogue.

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Robert Winthrop Chanler, Before the Wind, 1919, Private Collection

Essays in the publication cover aspects of his life and work and focus on the 1913 Armory Show, Chanler’s workshop at the House of Fantasy, Gilded Age patrons and commissions, patronage by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and preservation challenges his works present. Chanler’s decorative work has been peripheral to the artistic canon for over eighty years and this publication is his first return to the public eye. Hopefully, the research presented in the book will catalyze scholars and provide a springboard for continued research. 

 

Time and the Periphery

 

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Written by Foteini Vlachou (Visual Resources, Special Issue: Medieval Modernity), the article “Why Spatial? Time and the Periphery” addresses a series of problems regarding the definition of the periphery in art history and its relation with the concepts of space and time. It seeks to disentangle the periphery from its geographical association by examining how it has instead been constructed as a primarily temporal concept. For this purpose, a tentative definition of the periphery is advanced based on the example of eighteenth-century Portugal. Also analyzed is what can be termed as the delay discourse on the periphery (patent in several national historiographies of art, with Portugal serving again as an example), which was criticized by Carlo Ginzburg and Enrico Castelnuovo, as well as Nicos Hadjinicolaou already in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As a way out of the impasse of different or multiple temporalities (and the implication of fast and slow time) proposed by art historians from George Kubler to Keith Moxey, this article proposes the concept of historical time as developed in the writings of French philosopher Louis Althusser (1918–1990), in his analysis of Capital by Karl Marx (1818–1883), as a useful category in deconstructing the ideological dimension of periphery’s temporal character. Rejecting both longue durée and a linear, ideological reference time, Althusser’s terminology and concepts offer an incentive to think anew of time and the periphery, while insisting on the fundamentally unequal power configurations that have shaped both the practice of art history and a discourse on the periphery that continues, for the most part, to be produced in the centre(s).

 

 

But Seriously: What Is Hungarian Art History Anyway?

by Nóra Veszprémi (originally published in the Hungarian Art History blog, December 7, 2014)

This blog has been on a long hiatus, so first of all I have to apologize to my readers. A lot has been going on this year. The hiatus does not mean, however, that I was not constantly thinking about topics I could write about. I hope to turn all the drafts I have started and abandoned into proper posts soon. First, however, to get into the mood, I decided to briefly revisit an old post which addressed a question that is crucial to this blog: What Is Hungarian Art History Anyway?

In that old post, written almost one and a half years ago, I started out from a seminal text published in 1951 by the Hungarian art historian Lajos Fülep (1885-1970), entitled The Task of Hungarian Art History (A magyar művészettörténelem föladata). I focused on the distinction Fülep made between ‘art in Hungary’ and ‘Hungarian art,’ which is maintained by Hungarian art history writing to this day. ‘Art in Hungary’ simply refers to artworks found in the historical territory of Hungary, while ‘Hungarian art’ implies the existence of a continuous tradition of national art. As a rule of thumb, ‘art in Hungary’ is usually used to denote art in the period before the 19th century, while ‘Hungarian art’ is reserved for the subsequent times when, due to the establishment of a national institutional framework, the continuous tradition became palpable. Even though I had read Fülep’s essay a few times, I have to admit that my interpretation was somewhat simplified.

Recently, I had the opportunity to delve deeper into the text, as I prepared an English translation of it to be published in the open access Journal of Art Historiography. And now for some shameless self-promotion: if you wish to read it in English, annotated by me and preceded by my brief essay on Lajos Fülep and the question of national art, look no further: here is The Task of Hungarian Art History.

When translating a text, one has to read and interpret it sentence by sentence and has no excuse to skip over any details. Hence, I have now discovered how complex and multi-layered this text really is. It is easy to critique Fülep’s ideas on national art looking back from the 21st century, armed with the theoretical arsenal of post-colonialism and the like. But what I discovered while preparing my translation is the sheer intellectual bravery of Fülep’s endeavor. He set himself the task of defining Hungarian art and its history – a problem that, in itself, rests on a 19th-century way of questioning. At the same time, he was a modernist, and he was brave enough to examine those 19th-century concepts and the intellectual framework they constituted in the light of new ideas, even if he himself was still indebted to that framework. He already did so in his essay Hungarian Art, written in 1916-18, and he went on to address the same problems from a different perspective inThe Task of Hungarian Art History. I tried to summarize all this in my introduction to the English translation, so I will not dwell on it further here. If you are interested, please read the Introduction.

Another fascinating problem I have been thinking about is the way Fülep treats ‘Hungarian art history’ as a scholarly discipline related to, but distinct from, say, Italian art history or French art history. In the 19th century, when they were born, literary history, art history, and of course history itself were ‘national disciplines’ in Hungary (and, I guess, in other countries), and they strongly contributed to the construction of national identity. But is Hungarian art history really a separate discipline? Fülep defines it as art history that takes Hungarian art as its subject – but does that make it different in its methods? Fülep argues that it does: he says that Hungarian art history raises special questions which its ‘scholarly models’ – Italian, French or German art history – lack, and thus needs to rely on a special methodology. How far is that true? Certainly, the humanities are not like the sciences: their methods, questions and results cannot be universalized, because every national artistic tradition (and, indeed, every artist and artwork) is unique and may raise different questions. At the same time, in the 21st century, we may choose to focus on the entanglement of ‘national’ art histories and on how blurred those national traditions really are (which is something Fülep does not deny, quite to the contrary!), and we may find transnational perspectives fruitful. If art history is a scholarly discipline at all, it has to have methods and theories that can be generalized. At the same time, it cannot neglect local singularities. Forcing methods developed for art histories of the ‘centre’ on art histories of ‘peripheral’ nations could be seen as a certain kind of colonialism. But at the same time, the rejection of these methods and the insistence on national ‘uniqueness’ can be seen as a certain kind of provincialism. Art history may be global today, but is there really one global discourse? And if there is, how can national art histories chime in?

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Featured image: Lajos Tihanyi, Portrait of Lajos Fülep, 1915, oil on canvas, 77,5 x 95 cm, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest (source: http://www.hung-art.hu/)

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The “Global Art History and the Peripheries” conference review

by Foteini Vlachou

© Léa Saint-Raymond, Artl@s Project

Two months ago in Paris (12-14 June), the “Global Art History and the Peripheries” international conference took place, supported by the Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA), the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the École normale supérieure (ENS). Resembling more an intensive workshop than a traditional conference (one can peruse the list of abstracts here), “Global Art History and the Peripheries” counted with the participation of a number of scholars from Poland, Sweden, Lebanon, Italy, Romania, Great Britain, the USA, and France itself. The conference was organized by the Artl@s project, and more specifically by three members of the team, its two directors, Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel and Catherine Dossin, and Michela Passini, responsible for the Patrimoines section of the project. The Artl@s project itself was founded in 2009 by Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel at the École normale supérieure de Paris, as an attempt to eschew traditional approaches in the study of art history and to focus instead on quantitative, spatial and geo-historical methods of analysis.

The “Global Art History and the Peripheries” conference could be associated with other recent initiatives to define global art history, and grapple with the challenges that it presents for the shape of the discipline today. The Is Art History Global? volume, edited by James Elkins in 2007 (you can read his “Art History as a Global Discipline” here), and the 2011 Clark Conference “In the Wake of the Global Turn: Propositions for an ‘Exploded’ Art History without Borders”, convened by Jill Casid and Aruna D’Souza, are the most important recent examples (you can read D’Souza’s review of the conference here and the Clark Art Institute has made available a series of videos from the conference here).

The conference started with Joyeux-Prunel’s presentation where she touched upon the basic problems of dealing with art in the peripheries and the range of disciplinary and methodological solutions one could apply to these: disciplinary migration (to anthropology, namely); post-colonial and/or subaltern point of view; relationship of centers to/with peripheries (transcultural approach); escaping counter-imperialism; ancient and new peripheries; and changes brought to the dominant narratives of art history once peripheries are integrated in them.

Joyeux-Prunel, jointly with Catherine Dossin, also presented their proposal towards a geopolitical history of modernism. Citing several writers as sources of inspiration for this project (such as Braudel, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and Yves Lacoste), they structured their proposal along several, interconnected axes: the prosopography of modernist groups; the comparative chronology of cycles and events; the quantitative analysis of collecting practices; the study of the point of origin of international exhibitions (through BasArt, the collaborative base for geo-referenced data that the Artl@s project has been developing); the study of middlemen and their motivations; translations and adaptations (this is especially important for the interdisciplinary scope of the project that aims to encompass literary as well as visual history); and, provincialism and the end of modernism. Applying these methods in art history, would allow for the “writing [of] a circulatory and inclusive global modern history of art” (to cite the two authors).

Michela Passini presented her research project, focusing on centers and peripheries in the context of a series of exhibitions surveying national art in the Jeu de Paume museum, during the interwar period (1921-1939). Including a number of fourteen countries, Passini discussed some aspects of her research involving national stereotypes and their reception within the artistic metropolis of Paris. She stressed, among other things, the importance of the notion of the beginning(s) of national art: How, for example, the Italian art exhibition ‘started’ with the display of Roman statues, while for the exhibition of Danish art the foundation of the Royal Danish Academy of Portraiture, Sculpture, and Architecture in the eighteenth century was chosen as its inaugural point.

A number of communications on specific peripheries and case studies presented a wide range of methodological and theoretical problems. Carmen Popescu discussed architectural history and practice in Eastern Europe, the methodological problems ensuing from its geographical and disciplinary marginality, while concluding that global art history tends to be normative as a discourse; Olivier Marcel, next year’s post-doctoral fellow of the Artl@as project, brought his insight as a geographer to the study of the cultural environment of Nairobi, insisting on the dialectical relationship between mobility and periphery and warning against the danger of approaching ‘periphery’ as a confined space; Jérôme Bazin examined the use of realism as a stylistic strategy deployed in the service of communist universality, in a woodcut produced by Lothar Kittelman in the GDR, about the 1973 Chilean coup d’état; Mathilde Arnoux, as the principal investigator of the “To each his own reality. The notion of real in art in France, West Germany and East Germany and Poland from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s” research program, analyzed artistic relationships in four countries and the ways they undercut traditional categories, centering on the concept of the ‘real’; Ewa Bobrowska studied the community of Polish artists in Paris covering the period 1890-1914 and raising interesting questions regarding identity and nationality (she grouped artists according to the center towards which they gravitated, i.e. “Munich artists”, “Paris artists”); Annika Öhrner discussed the presence of Swedish artists in Paris (1908-1925), emphasizing the importance of gender and sexual orientation as determinants of a marginality that does not need to be defined as geographical, as well as the necessity to re-imagine Paris as the diversified site of several avant-garde microspaces (instead of as a monolithic structure), along the model of Piotr Piotrowski’s “horizontal art history”; Derek Sayer challenged the view of Prague as peripheral, addressing it instead as the site of an alternative model of avant-garde, one which allowed drastically different relationships between fine and applied arts, and popular culture. Other notable case studies included Kristine Khouri’s examination of the Sultan Gallery in Kuwait, mapping the contours of Arab art and identity, Rasha Salti’s fascinating study of the International Art Exhibition in Solidarity with Palestine (1978) and Zahia Ramani’s presentation of the Arts et architecture dans la mondialisation research project of the Institut national d’histoire de l’art, raising eventually the problem of terminology and the different contents of the words ‘mondialisation’ in French and ‘globalization’ in English, that retains its negative associations with capitalism and neoliberalism.

The plenary speakers also presented a wide array of current issues and methodological problems. David Cottington talked about transnational (British and French) and interdisciplinary (literary and artistic) considerations when it comes to the study of the avant-garde; he discussed the importance of self-understanding as a criterion of peripheral status (that is, identifying oneself as belonging to or originating from a periphery); the problem of different hierarchies (cultural vs. economic/political), and the relationships cultural centers (such as Paris) and economic/political ones (such as London) developed during a specific period. Cottington also touched upon the subject of the professionalization of the avant-garde, the aesthetic rivalries between writers and painters, and the necessity of a truly interdisciplinary study that links literature and painting (much as the Artl@s project proposes to do), since the writers were often at the forefront of modernist avant-garde.

Catherine Grenier talked about the new presentation of the permanent collection of the Centre Georges Pombidou, to be launched in October 2013. This offered a unique glimpse at how curatorial practices can contribute towards shaping and enriching the dominant narrative of art history, but also at the practical limitations a major cultural institution has to face (inevitably, the choices reflect the holdings of the museum, and can never be all-inclusive). The project was conceived in an effort to display plural modernities, diversifying the exhibits geographically (with rooms on artists such as the Uruguayan Torres García, the Cuban Wifredo Lam, the Algerian Fatima Haddad [Baya], the Brazilian modernist movement around the Manifesto Antropófago etc.), as well as in terms of material and technique (emphasis on design, photography, journals etc.). ‘Traditional’ categorizations will be in many cases preserved (surrealism, constructivism, social realism, expressionism, abstraction etc.), expanding to include previously ignored or marginalized geographic areas (for example, Amadeo de Souza Cardoso will be exhibited in the ‘international futurism’ room, just to cite an overlooked European example from Portugal).

Piotr Piotrowski gave what was perhaps the most openly political talk in a conference where political issues abounded. One of the most interesting notions introduced in his lecture was that of “active reception”, according to which a periphery is not viewed as passively submitting to external influences (a passivity that is implied in the term ‘reception’), but its culture seen as actively shaped through choices, rejections, appropriations etc. Most importantly, Piotrowski raised the question of the political role of the enterprise of global art history, which he considered neither as a “neoliberal offer” nor as post-modernist. He considered the possibility of art history participating in the movement of alter-globalization, and how academic and curatorial practices (deeming the latter more visible in the community) could contribute to it. A telling example was the ethical issues raised when dealing with censorship: Piotrowski mentioned a lecture he had recently attended in China on the representations of the Tiananmen Square, that avoided the question of the 1989 protests by conveniently stopping in the 1970s without providing a plausible reason for the choice of the time limits of the subject under discussion.

James Elkins, unfortunately only present via video-conference due to the air traffic controllers strike in Paris, concentrated on the cultural diversity of art history practices all over the world and the various problems posed by them. Georgian art history with highly selective references to Western canonical art history, or translations of key art historical texts into Chinese (and the logic behind those selections), were only two examples of these practices. The question that strongly emerged was whether art historians should accept these differences as constitutive of local specificities or adhere to the same academic standards for art history all over the world. Interestingly, Elkins, much like most North American and West European scholars, situated the periphery in the non-western world, thus seeing global art history as the attempt to embrace what was previously ignored by Western art history. The conference concluded with a round-table, a discussion on the problems and possibilities of teaching global art history.

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The conference was dedicated to modernism, with one notable exception: Sophie Raux, who presented a research project of the Interdisciplinary Cluster for the Advancement of Visual Studies (Lille), a database of sales of paintings in 64 European cities for the period 1700-1799 and the reconstruction of a specific location of eighteenth-century Parisian art market (Pont Notre Dame, using a 3D model). The domination of modernism reflected the interests and fields of specialization of the organizers and participants, although the usefulness of the ‘global’ for the study of these periods and phenomena was apparent. Whether one should use – and exactly how – the ‘global’ for periods antedating the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was left open for debate. Can we better comprehend the Mediterranean in late antiquity following this model? Would the art produced during the Portuguese maritime expansion profit from insights into the global? The conference was notable not only for championing methods (mapping, quantitative analysis etc.) that still, for the most part, elude art history, but for its unwillingness to give up on the validity of the ‘periphery’ as an analytical category. As various participants stressed the historical and geographical fluidity of these identities, avoiding the static and binary opposition of center and periphery and the concept of linear, ideological time, the necessity to redefine the ‘periphery’ in the global age emerged clearly.

(also published in: http://institutodehistoriadaarte.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/the-global-art-history-and-the-peripheries-conference-review/)