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MC5.1 Towards a Global History of "Art"

Towards a Global History of "Art"

Koordination: Monica Juneja


Today we witness an explosion in what comes to be called art – the list of artefacts and media that have entered the domain of art is endless and include everyday consumer goods, wrapped monuments, digital images, performance, and synthesized sounds. The expanding limits of the concept of art define the global uses of the term in similar ways. Contemporary practices of collecting, curating, displaying and writing which proliferate across the globe through biennales, art journalism and the art market have facilitated a ubiquitous usage of the concept of art in a plurality of cultural contexts. This usage partakes of the concept of the “Artworld” coined by Arthur Danto which postulates that objects get ratified as “art” through the mediation of authoritative institutions, individuals, theories and expertise. (Danto 1964) A global history of art which aims to bring different regional experiences onto a common narrative matrix is confronted with the methodological challenge of how to deploy a shared concept that has grown beyond its parochial origins and whose semantic at the same time is informed by lives of distinct, earlier local understandings and experiences, often subliminally present within uses and practices associated with "art".

One response of practitioners of art history to the challenges posed by globality to the discipline and its conceptual frameworks has been to highlight the epistemological violence that the use of "Western" analytic frames would inflict on non-European cultures (Belting 2009, Elkins 1998). Drawing upon anthropological distinctions between emic and etic terms, such relativist positions advocate the use of each tradition’s core concepts (Elkins: "indigenous terms") whose incommensurability and untranslatability are assumed. The arguments proffered appear to be premised on a radical relativism that ends up freezing alterity as fixed and ahistorical. As the history of art as a modern disciplinary field has been and is closely implicated in processes of nation building, both in Europe and in Asia, such a drawing up of conceptual and linguistic boundaries is frequently sustained by the territorialcum- ideological logic of national identities.

This project intends to research the semantic and cultural histories of art in Asian contexts (primarily South Asia and through cooperative ventures with partners both in Heidelberg and outside, extend the focus to West, Central and East Asia). A central question which will be posed here is where to locate the concept itself. Can it be read off lexical representations alone, often taken to be fixed essences, standing for an undifferentiated "tradition" (Elkins) or does the concept need to be recovered from within a broad network of practices that have evolved historically, shaped by transcultural flows?



Monica Juneja