Future Art History

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How art ‘history’ can take us ‘forward’ is like going back to the future!

In summary, art history transcends the boundaries of philosophy, politics and psychology.

The intellectual debate continues to revolve around the art historian’s object of study; whether it be paintings, sculpture, or even the advertisement of hair style!

Courbet for instance, spells the Marxist viewpoint whether you are a Marxist or not, thus it is essential to interpret his paintings using politics, philosophy and class structure.

There are interrelationships between other disciplines with art history which work both ways; history of art is used by others in the same way it borrows ideas for itself!

Riegl and Wolfflin were formalists and acknowledged change in perception anyway; they noted art being the medium providing the best example to illustrate these shifts in human thought.

Methodological guidance has been borrowed from art history on visual representation in science and other areas of normal history; no longer can a single method be used with research!

Feminism has managed to generate debates from a range of other theories, while medieval-art historians may adopt insights from social art history on the one hand, and connoisseur identification methods to date works on the other hand.

Some methods are more compatible with each other though, that is clear. Social art history for instance, represents an interplay of a wide range of social forces; connoisseur mainly takes just the individual. Is it possible to use both without contradiction though, and does a small amount of contradiction matter anyway? With different levels, an artwork may be accurately dated and no underlying theory may be required but if two methods are mutually exclusive a choice needs to be made.

Flexibility is a good thing but switching between theories does have its dangers so a good art historian like any workman will use a range of tools from the toolbox to do the best job and select the correct one at the correct time rather than any old one for the hell of it!

Feminists like using psychoanalysis, but there are many sexist assumptions in psychoanalysis which are often at odds with feminism; Pollock dipped in to Freudian fetishism, without endorsing other aspects of his theory.

There will always be the need for theory to link art to society and identify how it changes over time because art’s evolution is definitely not random.

An artist’s catalogue raisonné might be seen as compiling data. Yet the significance of an artwork clearly has to be understood in light of all the artist’s work; something we call the metaphysics of individuality!

Moreover, the so called ‘hermeneutical problem‘ has arisen and that is how we can understand works of art now, that are from a different time, and with different cultural context.

The thing about the ‘hermeneutical problem‘ is it highlights the methods in art history required to attempt to resolve it; it helps us rather than hinders us, because it puts artists in their place in history and allows us to understand them from the present, meaning the problem is really one of how clearly we understand methods in art history. It helps us understand methods which helps us answer the problem.

Many people have sidestepped the ‘hermeneutical problem‘ because history isn’t laid together in a single process of development. The history of methods is a story of losses and gains, thus, new replaces old, and the overcoming of problems invariably means something will always be lost!

Each and every theory in art history has its limitations. Trying to link the present to the past and account for historical changes carries the risk of not being sufficiently attentive to difference. We cannot assume that each theory applies to all cultures at all times, especially one that is remote from us.

But we can identify certain general causes and art history is notoriously diverse.

Riegl and Wolfflin tried to apply new ideas about vision, to the past. They did this without a great deal of supporting historical evidence.

There is the problem of art history communicating with a whole culture when really it is just the paintings which are a small part of it, and this loses some of the distinctiveness. For that reason, many writers have focused on specific features only and rather than looking for continuity they emphasize the difference, when perhaps continuity is where change – at least some of it – happens.

If we give up this idea of a link from one culture to the next it is difficult to give a valid interpretation because the difference is too great for comparison. Thus, it becomes unknowable and awkward to write the history without any interrelations. This means there must be a link or links and makes it a lot of fun trying to find them!

By giving us then this gap between what is specific and different manages to open up a whole new area. However, by tailoring things in our own little way we run the risk of reducing them to our own narrow world of today.

Perhaps identifying that difference is the ‘thing about art history’ in some sort of mathematical equation (3x – x = 2x and the difference is ‘x’ that represents the change in a nut shell) thus, art historians continue to expand the borders of their discipline.

From the belt buckle of a Roman, to the discussion of pornography, there is no reason why art and it’s history should not expand its remit even further: a discussion of the difference between analogue and digital representation of images.

Visual culture as this may now be called does require the same theoretical conundrums as traditional art history and rely on the methods developed by it.

Only can this be seen in an increasing interaction as the evolution of images increases by greater proportions.

Laure Prouvost

Laure Prouvost

Why the Turner Prize is so important

Laure Prouvost is a French artist who lives in London and won the Turner Prize in 2013.

Having attendend Goldsmith’s she has exhibited at Tate Britain and the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Awarded the MaxMara Prize by the Whitechappel Gallery in 2011, much of her work is now in private collections which includes installation, collage and film.

She won the Turner Prize in 2013 for an installation named Wantee. The film is a reference to the habit of asking guests if they “want tea” thus, it contains complex and courageous images before taking the audience on a search for her fictional grandfather.

Beginning in 1984, the Turner Prize is awarded to a contemporary artist under the age of 50 every year!


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Cezanne, The Bathers (1894). Oil on canvas, 127 x 196 cm. National Gallery, London

Why this painting is significant

This is a painting of numerous male and female bathers.
Cezanne was doing lots of similar work at this late stage in his life; thus, the painting is his take on the long tradition of nudes with landscape, that Titian and Poussin were famous for, with mythology as their subject. Cezanne never include this mythological side; he harmonized figures with landscape, and used solid forms with structure or earth tones.
Picasso and Matisse both went to see this painting when it was first exhibited in 1907, as such helping to inspire the Cubist movement!

Duncan Campbell

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How the Turner Prize became so important

In 2014, Duncan Campbell from Ireland won the Turner Prize.

Campbell contributed to Scotland’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale. He makes films about controversial figures, often by mixing archive footage with new material; thus, he questions and challenges the documentary form!

His prize was mainly for the essay film It for Others which uses: dance, the IRA and Marxism to explore the value of art. At 54 minutes it includes anthropomorphic ketchup dispensers.

The Turner Prize has been running for 30 years and was designed to “promote discussion of new developments in contemporary British art” thus, people have been known to love to hate the Turner prize ever since!


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Monet, Bathers at La Grenouillère (1869). Oil on canvas, 73 x 92 cm. National Gallery, London

Who Monet did this painting with
This painting depicts a popular boating and bathing establishment with an adjacent floating café, on the River Seine near Bougival to the west of Paris.
In the summer of 1869 Monet was living near La Grenouillère with his mistress, Camille, and their son. Working alongside Pierre-Auguste Renoir, he painted sketches of the scene in a very fresh and direct manner, possibly in preparation for a slightly larger canvas, which is sadly now lost.
The exceptionally free handling of Monet’s painting may in part be due to the canvas being a sketch for what was to be a more ambitious composition to be painted back in the studio. Monet uses broad areas of colour to indicate the boats moored in the shadows, while dots in the lighted water in the background represent a group bathing in the river.

A Line Made by Walking

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Long, A Line Made by Walking (1967). Photograph and graphite on board, 375 x 324 mm. Tate Britain

Who it was that walked the line

Richard Long made this formative piece on a journey to St Martin’s from his Bristol home whilst hitchhiking. He flattened the grass in a field in Wiltshire, then photographed it where the sunlight caught the line at an angle.

The image has a corporeal presence and anticipates a widespread interest in per-formative art practice; Long demonstrates a visual language for his personal concerns regarding impermanence, motion and relativity!


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 Picasso, Fruit Dish, Bottle and Violin (1914). Oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm. National Gallery, London

When the Cubist technique was developed

Cubism was a movement away from the normal depiction of an object from one viewpoint. The objects are fragmented and shown from different angles creating a blend of two and three dimensions.

Braque and Picasso used the basic geometric shapes of Cezanne as an influence; the objects can just about be made out: table, bowl, fruit, bottle, newspaper, violin. There is a flat appearance to the colouring, dots and even unpainted canvas and sand.

Dedicated to the Unknown Artists

 

Dedicated to the Unknown Artists 1972-6 Susan Hiller born 1940 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 2012 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T13531

Hiller, Dedicated to the Unknown Artists (1972). 305 postcards on 14 panels, 660 x 1048 mm. Tate Britain

What this collection depicts

Susan Hiller’s collection depicts waves crashing onto the shores of Britain.

There is a map in the first panel, and the whole thing is a tribute to the great many artists involved in seaside imagery; many of whom are often overlooked and forgotten about!

Commonplace items such as postcards, exhibited in an extensive presentation like this, give the most mundane of things a new status; the postcards show Hiller’s interest in the theme of memory and memorials.


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Botticelli, S. Birth of Venus (1486). Tempera on canvas, 172.5 x 278.5 cm. Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Why Venus the Roman goddess of love is central to Botticelli’s painting 
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La Nascita di Venere, by Alessandro Botticelli depicts the goddess Venus emerging from the sea as a fully grown woman like something from a James Bond movie!

Venus is the Roman goddess of love and had two aspects: Firstly, an earthly goddess who aroused humans to physical love; secondly, a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love. The most enduring interpretation of Botticelli’s, The Birth of Venus, is Neoplatonic – a view based on Plato’s idea that physical beauty allowed the mind to better understand spiritual beauty, thus looking at a beautiful Venus in this masterpiece leads the viewer to think about her creator.

During the Renaissance, spectators would feel their minds lifted to divine love, though nowadays many scholars believe The Birth of Venus and Primavera, both by Sandro Botticelli, work as wedding paintings that suggest appropriate behaviour for brides and grooms. Vasari saw the painting as The Arrival of Venus; her pose resembles the Venus de Medici which is a marble structure from classical antiquity in the Medici family collection and Botticelli did study this.

The sea-shell was often used as a metaphor for a woman’s vulva and the central figure in the painting is similar to a Praxiteles sculpture of Aphrodite – the Greek goddess of love and Ancient Greece’s equivalent to Venus!

Botticelli’s curious flatness, linearity and two dimensional style, replicates classical antiquity of vases from Ancient Greece moving him in a different direction to normal Renaissance art. There are literary connections associating Botticelli’s Venus, to a Homeric hymn published in Florence in 1488, giving his painting another classical association. Naturalism was never a commitment of Botticelli. He rarely gave any weight or volume to his figures and hardly ever used a deep perspective for space.

The body of Venus is anatomically improbably in his painting; she has an elongated neck and torso thus her pose is impossible the way she is standing in a classical stance with her weight leaning too far over to the left for her to balance. Imagery is imaginary in Birth of Venus because none of the figures cast shadows and this is clearly meant to bring pleasure to the spectator using an idyllically beautiful woman. She is blond and voluptuous with the curviness of her body and has gold leaf in her hair, all set in a luxurious garden with brilliant light and roses which are floating around this gorgeous nymph.

Beyond Post Colonialism

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Post, post-colonialism in art history

How important is post-colonialism? Well, there is a need for other voices to be heard, and that culture should be understood as a global issue, rather than excluding and universalizing accounts of history.

Far reaching art history is post-colonialism. We know art history is normally a systematic discipline, historically specific to the culture that produces it and explains historical change.

Hegel had an ‘Idea’ that united local and universal art, as culturally specific, in a way that future generations may understand art from the past; post-colonialism destroys this unity!

Cultural specificity can only be pursued to a point, but the break down in communication often causes a problem: perfect knowledge would be a fine thing, and people do speak on behalf of someone else – distorting things; thus, Post-colonialism faces the huge difficulty of bridging cultural gaps.

For instance, any account of colonialism is likely to be shaped one way by the speaker. The response being that there is never a true, definitive or authoritative account. Why should one view make a greater claim than any other. Basically it is a dead end.

Surely only those inside the culture can really narrate it! However, censorship is dangerous, and giving authenticity to an opposing view is also very dangerous.

If the native voice is overvalued it becomes primitivism, thus you can not assume the truth with an outsiders voice.

It ignores the cultural mix too by assuming there is an authentic voice of that pure race – fusion food / fusion art – people have been migrating and emigrating for centuries!

How can one speak accurately then, of another culture and of it’s artwork?

Mostly people will rely on the theories of others: Said drew upon Foucault, Nochlin on original feminism, Carven on Marx.

By combining many political and philosophical commitments we now have post-colonialism. However, to rely upon other theoretical models may exacerbate ‘the hermeneutic problem’ rather than help to resolve it.

There is a need to speak from the margins but the ideas are central; invariably there is a danger of going down the route of the colonizers culture which isn’t objective.

Marxism cannot be that appropriate to African or South American people, so postcolonialism generally argues against a unifying notion, instead focusing on the local difference.

When adapted, some theoretical tools from the West may be able to help understand art from around the world. For example, feminist theory about patriachy in colonial regimes and equivelant things with indigenous cultures themselves maybe a useful strand!

It may be possible to identify Western viewpoints whilst ignoring racist elements. Sex and race are always going to come in to postcolonialism and will differ hugely in many cases from our own laws and values, in say the Middle East for example.

Postcolonial theory engages the conflict between the wish to have a global theory, and how the specifics of history undermine this wish.

To deal with this, models of intercultural relations have been developed to try and characterise colonial encounters.

Nichola Thomas shows how an emcompassing theory requires a reductive approach; there is a danger with historical reductiveness, because the word colonialism, is often very vaguely used.

Think of the obvious political differences between Columbus arriving in America, the formation of the Mughal Empire in India and Chinese invasion of Tibet; think about the range of political reductiveness. Thomas doesn’t defend colonialism, but it isn’t just about badness!

In addition, the colonisers have their own internal debates and ethics of imperialism – often the colonial power changes like the Faukland Islands changed hands many times before finally becoming part of the UK and that has always been debated anyway!

Then there is the danger of racism, which colonisation is not always guilty of, and religious belief may get in the way, thus racism comes in many different forms as well.

The issue is then very clear about homogony as there is a mismatch with specific historical analysis and general theory, always being at odds.

Said and Coombes criticise hybridity being used generically. This means a refinement of the postcolonial method is required to give greater reflection on the theory.

Thomas identifies these issues which conveniently enough are symptoms of the hermenuetic problem. Thus, to produce an art historical account from the postcolonial perspective, we must give up possibility of a general theory, becuase it only leads to reductive claims ending largely in racism!

Postcolonialism concern for political status rather than theoretical coherence in art is part of this issue and ending with postcolonialism as an approach to art history shows just how far it has come as a discipline.

Postcolonialism demonstrates how much is gained by avoiding universalising history, and the limitations of a monocausal model particulary when discussing cultural issues.

The politics are often too complicated, thus, the message of postcolonialism can only really be partial, but the approach does at least address these complicated issues and negotiates them, if only to realise ultimately that the problems of postcolonialism are likely to persist and never go away!


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Who the infamous Caravaggio really

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s art speaks of a modern world with youth, sex, violence, love, solitude, spirit and passion because he was a romantic hero and artistic rebel.

Beginning in Milan there was a feudal relationship within the illustrious Colonna family, where Caravaggio had a protected, yet tumultuous life with them, starting in 1571.

Naturalism and tragic darkness in his art probably  reflects his early life when he moved to Rome as a rich courtier and low life villain, hence for reasons of homicide and libel, Caravaggio was exiled to Naples, Malta and Sicily respectively, becoming an artist on the run!

Eventually being pardoned by the Pope, Caravaggio died in suspicious circumstances on his way back to Rome, thus his style was marked mainly by naturalism or realism.

At a time of counter-reformation, he flaunted his talent and mocked authority, thus Caravaggio lived at a time when Rome was winning back the power it once had before the Reformation; Catholicism was on the rise, along with art and literature in this post war period.

Successive Popes were art patrons and turned Rome into the renaissance capital starting with the Sistine Chapel and Raphael, however with the ‘Sack of Rome’ many artists fled, but it also meant much work painting the rebuilt churches effectively invited an influx of artists from Northern Europe.

Caravaggio remained the most famous painter and the people in his pictures became like a cast of characters!

Santa Maria, Aracoeli was the holiest site where stood the Capitol at the very centre of the Roman Empire, just a small town to the east of Milan, thus as an apprentice, Caravaggio trained as a Renaissance artist here and brought new light naturalistic colour with him and as a freshness of colour meant the peaches in his work were almost fragrant.

Quickly urbanising in the 1590s and four Popes in quick succession meant chaos and insecurity, though Rome was a cosmopolitan city when Caravaggio arrived and his paintings offered a sense of fear, thus, they were apocalyptic with terror and damnation.

Colonna Palace is where Caravaggio really began his career though. He was painting heads and portraits which won him a top order place training in Borgo where he was educated, learning, schooling and making the right connections such as Prospero who became his closest friend. He also worked with Cesari painting flowers with a diagonal shaft of light coming into the room.

His paintings had a formative influence on the Baroque School with dramatic use of lighting and realistic observation of  physical and emotional states.

Caravaggio’s novelty was naturalism with its close physical observation combined with a dramatic shift from light to dark. His first public commissions were The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and The Calling of Saint Matthew.

Caravaggio fell out with Cesari as he couldn’t sell any paintings though he caught the attention of Cardinal Del Monte. This was a significant connection. Del Monte introduced him to his prestigious and elite circle in Rome; Caravaggio’s work then began to use brilliant colour, was deliberately provocative and he painted his own inclinations (including The Robbers) from this point on.

When living with Del Monte, Caravaggio got involved with scientists, poets and musicians which influenced his realism style; for example, the basket of grapes, water drops and his mimetic skill came to life with an aura of melancholy – Caravaggio’s melons were a protégé  to his aristocratic vision.

He would have become familiar with Leonardo’s Last Supper and the Lombard-style valuing simplicity and  attention to naturalistic detail. In Rome he did the Boy Peeling Fruit for Cesari – the Pope’s favourite artist – and the Boy with a Basket of Fruit too.

Caravaggio painted his Fortune Teller (with the gypsy girl) and the Cardsharps (perhaps his first true masterpiece) before shacking up with Cardinal Del Monte and executing a number of intimate chamber pieces.

When realism returned, the first religious and spiritual theme he painted was Mary Magdalene sitting on the floor.

Thereafter, contracted to decorate the Contarelli Chapel, Caravaggio got a string of prestigious commissions for religious works with violence, torture and death embedded in the works; dark and vulgar, the Groom’s Madonna had to be taken down.

Campo Marzio Piazza in Florence was where the weapons, urban thuggery and drama of the next few years were played out, thus unruly humour succeeded the renaissance courtly love ideal; Caravaggio complied with the political demand for decency and transformed musical pictures in the Jubilee of 1600 while sticking with the religious genre and painting his Mary Magdalene.

Anno Santo, the floods, and the execution of a young girl, all encouraged Caravaggio to paint a Sicilian Virgin Martyr and his work reflected more themes of murder and death before he then moved to a more Roman figure of style, hence, his methods of frozen expressions using posed models faded, and new symbolic figures appeared with a bloody reality.

David and Goliath showed compassion for Goliath heeding Leonardo’s instructions of victim and persecutor. Caravaggio painted a chapel and The Martyrdom of St Matthew with a centrifugal composition and theory of light for sixteenth-century pictures.

Mancini advised on gilt frames and Caravaggio painted the poet Marino. Members of academia were paying for his art – with dew drops and realism he brought sculptures to life, and borrowed some ideas from the Sistine Chapel too.

At the height of Caravaggio’s success in 1600, Christ was a dominating force, especially his suffering with humility.

The innkeeper’s shadow, the fruit bowl and the fish brought back all those Lombard and Venetian themes.

There was a strong sense of power uniting naturalism with idealism at the time. Caravaggio’s success was making others extremely jealous, thus provoking street violence and some paintings vanished.

Caravaggio was imprisoned for libel, throwing stones at the police, and there was the artichoke incident with a waiter in a local restaurant. Rome was under siege in 1603 with conflict between the French and Spanish at a time when Caravaggio was centre stage (especially with his St Matthew paintings) and this meant all of a sudden the demand for public works declined. He got into an argument over a tennis match and bullied other artists close to his style before he painted The Madonna of Loreto which was his last great painting in Rome.

Naples (by 1606) was the art dealing capital of the world and Caravaggio gained some lucrative commissions launching him up the Neapolitan stage, which avoided him military service before leaving for Malta at the very height of his fame.

In Malta, his Beheading of Saint John the Baptist was the only painting to which he put his signature and very few of his drawings survived because he preferred to use only canvas.

Imprisoned in Malta and defrocked, he managed to escape and fled to Sicily in a boat, whilst sending art back; stripped of his knighthood his reputation preceded his arrival, giving him instant success out there, thus, when in exile for murder and totally paranoid, he slept fully clothed every night, brandishing a dagger at all times.

Returning to Naples in 1609 and hoping to be pardoned, Caravaggio was wounded when attacked in a bar and he was thought to be dead. With a lucky escape he then developed a new artistic style, selling many more paintings, before finally making his way to Rome, where unfortunately much of his art had vanished.

Sadly, he never completed the journey and died shortly before arriving under suspicious circumstances. He was still a young man.

Caravaggio was largely forgotten about for over 300 years after his death. His influence on the new Baroque style (which emerged from Mannerism) can be seen in the work of Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernini and Rembrandt.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio never established a workshop and had no school to spread his techniques, which can only be deduced from his surviving work, of which there are 80 pieces that we know of.

Cultural Difference and Art

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Hybridity

Said and Nochlin emphasize this East / West divide, but hybridity takes a different approach to normal cultural relations.

Hybridity doesn’t concentrate on the separation of cultures – us and them – meaning that culture isn’t always pure, but a mixture different traditions; they interact and shape each other and become a hybrid.

Hybridity is like cultural exchange but there are things it is not.

Primitive-ism is the best example of Western artists using form and visual ideas from colonial cultures: African masks and Oceanic carvings, are but two!

Hybridity is not about the stereotyping of perhaps a closeness to nature, or stylistic borrowing. This was illustrated in 1984 in New York; the exhibition compared modern art alongside tribal objects to show an affinity between different parts of the art world.

James Clifford suggested that the approach to cultural difference we are used to hid an important history. Clifford was about ‘affinity’ thus different cultures share something that transcends history.

Remember, visual affinity overlooks how these artifacts arrived in the West, how we decided they were art, regardless of their use in the locations they were made.

The exhibition attempted to show the influence of tribal artifacts on Western modernism. But, it failed to address how it connected to colonialism.

Colonial culture has transformed the world of the colonized and this was ignored in the exhibition. Clifford argued that affinity connects peoples and cultures but not material and historical process; thus, it ignores the two way process of colonialism.

To deal adequately with cultural encounters requires attention to being historically specific, with the political and ethical issues that underpin these encounters; celebrating non western art is not enough, simply because it is very different.

Theory based on the idea of hybridity, relating to history, using the politics and culture exchange, is far better. For example, David Craven used the postcolonial viewpoint to account for abstract expressionism. Abstract Expressionism is epitome of modernism which is the end point of a teleological process of painting, becoming less representational and more about the paint pigment on the canvas!

New York became the world capital of abstract expressionism. It was used by the CIA to signal American freedom with traveling exhibitions to show the ideology of the US elite, and their global ambitions.

Craven points towards two paradoxes relating to abstract expressionism and American cultural imperialism.

Abstract Impressionism was greatly received in Latin America as well, even when there was anti-American sentiment, thus if abstract impressionism supports imperialism as well as imperialised, there must be something about it. Abstract Impressionism was well received regardless of hostility towards America.

Craven examines Pollocks work from the margin rather than the centre, and attempts to show it is neither pure Western art the modernists would have us believe, nor is it the global politics of the developed world.

Pollock was hugely interested in native America, thus Craven argues that the drip paintings reflect the Navajoansnad. Pollock doesn’t see Navajo as a novelty, like an exotic ‘other’ known by Oreintalism. Instead, he finds common ground rather than distance between him and the Navajo.

Craven also saw that Pollock immersed himself in Navajo art when it was being discouraged and natives were learning conventional techniques to assimilate them; Pollock, in essence was challenging such racism in art.

Pollock did not copy their motifs, but absorbed the values by representing them on the canvas. Pollock was left-wing and fitting with the Navajo values – both being repressed by cultural agenda. McCarthyism at the time didn’t help. Like a mirror image of cultures.

Craven saw beyond native and white American culture. He points out that Pollock’s radical techniques were hugely influenced by the workshop in New York where Mexican, communist painter Siqueiros helped him, with many other white and hispanic artists.

Abstract Expressionism is not just the continuation of European schools and influence. Surrealism yes, has an influence in many ways (anti-colonial and non-western politics) but also Navajo and Mexican work. There is a political affinity as well as appropriation of forms.

There is hence an alternative history of abstract expressionism which explains it as a form of subversive art.

Craven saw abstract expressionism unfolding differently to the one seen as New York being the new Paris, when avant garde becomes American.

Post-colonialism then reveals that Abstract Expressionism is not actually American art but art of the Americas!

It’s origins are global and it continues to move between cultures particulary in a pan-American radical style.

Postcolonialism lacks a specific theory though.

Said used Foucault but Craven used Marxism (because it involves economic and politcs determining art) thus, Craven’s premise is that abstract expressionism is a product of global politics.

Craven and Pollock are linked to native Americans and latin Americans because of the US economy – the world’s largest superpower and economy has a huge influence across the Americas and the globe! Annie Coombes said in 1992 this affects curating and the display in exhibitions; she suggests post colonial anaylsis offers a niave enthusiasm and she figures it to be analagous to feminist art history.

Coombs goes further than addressing the object and thinks more broadly about cultural, social and political structures of ‘it’ when displayed; not just the art but the institutional context, the location, the function rather than just the appearance.

Like Griselda Pollock, Coombes suggests you don’t just add a new group of items to the gallery!

All of a sudden including non-Western (or colonial) work isn’t enough – appearing as the token gesture – and more importantly there are fundamental principles surrounding the museum set up itself, thus, each gallery is different as is each exhibition.

Coombes was challenging the Western structure of ‘them and us’ which underpinned Said and Nochlin’s arguments.

Curators were showing hybrids, thus many exhibits were the result of cultural contact and interaction.

There was still the need to show unique qualities with the exhibits being different from Western art though, and craft essentially gave both types their identity but at the same time bringing the whole ‘thing’ forward.

Does this challenge Eurocentism or celebrate postcolonial culture?

Attention and celebration of the object displaced a sense of history, the location and its journey from one part of the globe to another, giving it a sense of continuing history.

Celebrating difference and diversity, however, ignores the problems of history, giving us visual pleasure, without the global issues involved. Multiculturalism might be another word for this. Ethnic groups appear in a city like New York but they evolve there and art marks these changes in a great many ways.

Hybridity is more than this though. More than the happy ending of fusion of artworks rather than ongoing politics.

The exhibition in London called “Hidden Peoples of the Amazon” had Indians shown interacting with the West, whilst embodying their own identities. What was not shown was the struggle between the Indians and the Brazilian government; hybridity was not shown for its politcal problems.

Something similar happened in Paris with “Les Magiciens” which presented hybridity alone and ignored the unchanging native culture. It was only the cultural artefacts presented as hybrid becuase they were mobile but ignored the scattering of people around the world; voluntary or forced migration.

Exhibitions were accused of presenting cultures interacting at a distance, when many artefacts were geographically static. How then does hybridity account for the African community in Paris?

Hybridity became the same notion everywhere, when clearly some benefited more than others with regard to the balance of power.

Coombes recognized that hybridity was as problematic as any other theory. Like the anthropologist Nicola Thomas who used the term ‘entanglement’ to describe the interweaving of cultures that perhaps cannot ever be seperated. Cultures do not blend smoothly but comprise with relationships visible and invisible.

This is not a review of token cultural exhibitions but research into key problems with postcolonialism as a way of doing art history.

When art historians assume a painting or sculpture is tied to its culture – like so many do – we really need different criteria to evaluate it if it is not our own culture.

Coombes figured there may be no way of doing this properly. Like Said and Orientalism we may have to insist on difference and similarity at the same time.

Hybridity may well be a mistaken notion that hides unpleasant histories.


Who it was that appeared in colour for the very first time
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“The Band Concert” is an animated cartoon about a small, musical group conducted by Mickey Mouse. Directed by Wilfred Jackson in 1935, “The Band Concert” remains one of the most highly acclaimed Walt Disney shorts of them all.
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