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Announcement | Programme | Logistics


Conference “Transcultural Trajectories of Art History: Legacies of Modernity and Global Entanglements”


December 8 - 10, 2014


Internationales Wissenschaftsforum Heidelberg (IWH),

Hauptstraße 242, 69117 Heidelberg



Professor Dr. Monica Juneja, Professor Dr. Birgit Mersmann



Susanne Lorig


Registration via


Can art history be made global? A rapidly globalizing art world which includes both, the transnationalization of its systems of production, display, mediation, and marketing, as well as the renationalization of art practice and art history, has confronted art history with exceptional challenges. This begins with questioning the proposition as to whether art history can today be viewed as a purely ‘Western’ discipline. Though historically formed and institutionalized in the West and in symbiotic relationship to modernity, art history no longer retains an exclusively ‘originary’ attachment to its parochial beginnings in Europe; during its global journeys to other regions of the world the discipline has acquired new roots and undergone adaptations and reconfigurations responding to local and regional contingencies. Many of the young post-colonial nations of Asia, joined today by the younger post-cold war nations of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, all seek to define national identity through notions of unique civilizational achievement. The contemporary ‘global turn’ in the humanities and social sciences has in recent years challenged art historians, art critics, curators, and cultural theorists to rethink the scope, conceptual frameworks and methodologies of the discipline. This has generated a fierce debate about the premises, research agendas, languages and institutional locations of an art history redefined as global: positions in this debate range from expansion, remapping or the advocacy of a “horizontal art history”, about which much has already been written.

Underlying these otherwise contentious debates is an orientation towards the present and future, while the historical dimension of art history as both possessing a historical agenda and constituting a disciplinary practice has not been sufficiently addressed. Confronted with what the philosopher Peter Osborne has called the “fiction of the contemporary”, that is a geopolitical fiction identifying the global with contemporary art and which functions as if “the speculative horizon of the unity of human history had been reached”, art history runs the risk of falling back behind its own disciplinary legitimation, identity, and history. However, a globally re(de)fined art history can only come into being and convincingly define its contents and disciplinary strategies by delving into its own history as global, transcultural history. This means revisiting foundational moments of the discipline of art history in the West as well as the processes of their re-configurations in new settings to uncover more malleable and transcultured notions of media, style and aesthetic worth than existing narratives have acknowledged. The world was a key factor in discourses of modernity of which art history both partook and contributed to shaping. Contemporary practice therefore calls for an engagement with the discipline’s genealogy which brought the world within its purview – an examination of its assumptions and structures of argumentation, its cosmopolitan potential and its ultimate choice of nationalist frames. A transcultural investigation of art history’s disciplinary past can on the one hand meaningfully draw on postcolonial modes of writing a critical history of both, the colonization through and the provincialization of Western art history. At the same time it eschews a radical nihilism which views the discipline as irrevocably compromised by Eurocentrism thereby foreclosing the possibility of recasting its frameworks.

The aim of this conference is to concatenate both ends of the history of art history, its origins in the modern world and its transformations in the global age, so that a new conceptual framework for a global art history can be set up, capable of productively interlacing historical and contemporary research. We call for papers that delve into in the multiple modern legacies of globalizing art and art history, but also unearth the neoliberal and hypermodern forces of the global contemporary art world. A transcultural perspective allows us to shed light on the migratory and translational dimensions of art cultures of connectivity, including their strategies of negotiation, the agency of actors and institutions and the asymmetries of power within which these unfold. Fixed art-historical categorizations, be they national or regional, aesthetic or religious, can be problematized by the analysis of transculturations as processes of entangled art histories. This should also involve the art-historical examination of how the term and idea of art and art history were shaped historically in different regional contexts.

The term “trajectory” serves as a useful conceptual frame to organize the sections of the conference under the following rubrics:
- Historical genealogies of art history as world history
- Art history as a transcultural study – methodological operations
- Art exhibitions and curatorial practice – the challenge of spatio-temporal connectivities

By connecting these three tracks, which are usually treated separately in different research contexts, we intend to work towards are more meaningful and critical remapping of art history.

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The attendance of the conference is free, but please register in advance via E-Mail:

The registration for the Conference is open to all Members of the Heidelberg University!

For budgetary Reasons the provided lunch, buffet and dinner is only open for invited guests.