This panel explores both the historic and the contemporary interstices between anthropology and art history. How do anthropologists account for and best capture the disciplinary influences and rationale of contemporary art that is usually the preserve of an art historical reading?
From the ecological sculptures of Lothar Baumgarten to the writings of George Bataille, the disciplines of art and anthropology have a shared, although chequered, ancestry. Within this the role of art historical narratives has often been sidelined, but anthropology's engagement with art is indebted to the field of art history for framing art as an anthropological subject and category.
Described by Clémentine Deliss as 'sparring partners' (2012), their affiliation can be traced back to at least the mid-19th century, and the forming of anthropology, art history and contemporary art as distinct disciplines has been achieved through their delimitation from each other (Rampley 2000). This panel explores both the historic and the contemporary interstices between anthropology and art history: as a source of inspiration, debate and recognition artists often describe their work and working practice through the prism of what has come before. How do anthropologists account for and best capture the disciplinary influences and rationale of contemporary art that is usually the preserve of an art historical reading? Further to this, how are the disciplines of art history and anthropology themselves appropriated into and as part of the interpretative or hermeneutical work of curators, critics and artists. This panel is particularly keen to receive proposals from practitioners whose work is inter or cross-disciplinary.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
"Thick description": an interdisciplinary outlook in contemporary art history
This paper seeks to give an account of the relations between contemporary art history and the idea of an interpretative science in search of meaning. For that, we shall conceive
the historian of contemporary art as an ethnographer with a microscopic gaze towards the wefts of meaning.
One of the definitions which guide the history of art as a discipline is that its object lies in determining the motivations of transformation in the aesthetic forms, however, this nineteenth-century perspective has resulted in various approaches within recent art history. These approximations come in relation to Visual Culture and its interest in unraveling structures of significance through broader methodologies. This is the case of the sociology of art, the anthropology of art, the gender studies, among others. The relations between anthropology and art history have been diverse especially in the use of broad notions like those of symbolic thought that have been worked by authors such as Aby Warburg and Erwin Panofsky. Contemporary art history has taken various categories that are typical of the anthropological analysis like those of otherness and culture. But the essential definition of a discipline is found more in their methods than in their concepts, particularly in anthropology the method is found in the ethnographic labor.
This paper seeks to give an account of the relations between contemporary art history and the idea of an interpretative science in search of meaning. For that, we will take the concept of thick description point out by Clifford Geertz in order to sort out the structures of signification and determine their social and historic ground in shaping a contemporary art history. In this way, we will propose the idea of the historian of contemporary art as an ethnographer with a microscopic gaze towards the wefts of meaning.
Formless, Bataille and the re-materialisation of the social
This paper argues that conceptual underpinnings of Formless (1996) curated by Yves Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss are problematic. It foregrounds the exhibition's debt to Bataille's 'primitive art' and offers a counter argument via the work of Rauschenberg, and writings of Ingold and Read.
In 1996 Rosalind Krauss and Yves Alain Bois curated Formless, a book and exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (Zone/MIT Press, 1996). Formless is the culmination of Critical and Cultural Theory's assault on Modernism and its historicising imperatives. The exhibition's critical framework mobilised Bataille's performative concepts of 'alteration' and the 'informe'. These ideas, formulated in Bataille's writings on 'Primitive Art' (1955), were indebted to Luqet's 'I'art primitif' (1930) and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and Untimely Meditations (1873-6).
Krauss and Bois mobilised Bataille's thinking to bring 'culture down in the world.' In the twentieth century Clement Greenberg's Neo-Kantian preoccupation with art had cast it as an elevating, transcendental experience, bound by reason and the visual. Central to the 'use-value' the formless for Krauss and Bois was 'alteration' through which art 'proceeds', for Bataille, by 'successive destructions'. As a counter measure, therefore, Krauss and Bois' hermeneutic project foregrounded scatological, self-destructive, transgressive and bestial preoccupations with matter that resisted categorization, narrative or interpretation.
This paper argues that Formless' debt to Bataille's aggressive vison of the 'animal' nature of humanity remains highly problematic; violently reinscribing the individualism that has dogged Modernism. Twenty years on this paper reappraises this confluence of anthropology and art history. It returns to the work Rauschenberg, who featured prominently in Formless and, via the writings of Greenberg's contemporary and Modernist advocate British art historian, Herbert Read and Tim Ingold's recent essay 'On human correspondence' (2016) argues instead for the social potential of art's matter.
Allegations Regarding Dominant Biennials: A Cutting-Edge Perspective from the Biennale of Dakar
My paper aims at an anthropological critique of the art historical thesis of the domination of a few biennials on the basis of their global perspectives, in connecting art historical theories and my ethnographic insights from the Biennale of Dakar.
An encompassing, undisputed thesis among art specialists regarding the biennial format is its overall goal to exhibit artists and their artworks from the whole world. This raises, amongst others, a central question: about the knowledge of curators that is required to these ends.
An immediate anthropological critique of this thesis would highlight that it is formulated from the vantage of European/North American perspectives which allege the worldwide domination of biennial formats such as documenta, Venice, Gwangju, São Paolo.
This geopolitical globalism of biennials' art, however, encourages to consider concepts which are at its basis, how the worldwide creation of contemporary art is conceptualized. Is it embedded within a singular global art world, hence subsuming local, regional, and transcultural contemporary art within one art discourse?
Adopting, however, art historical concepts of the plurality of art worlds, and of antinomies between global contemporary art creations (e.g. Belting, Enwezor), the knowledge about these various discourses becomes paramount for realizing such a global exhibit. Following these approaches, I argue that there are limitations to the claims of globality, if biennials' exhibits should be more than mere visualizations of multitude. At stake is the knowledge that would be required of the art in the plurality of contrasting art worlds.
My paper thereafter aims at an anthropological critique of power discourses regarding the global dimension of such dominant biennials, in connecting art historical theories and my ethnographic insights from the Biennale of Dakar.
Latin American Art: Between Contemporary Art and Anthropology
This paper examines artworks presented at the last Venice Biennial in order to analyze how Latin American artists have employed art history's and anthropology's theories as an insertion strategy to be included in the mainstream contemporary art world.
The 2017 Venice Biennale showcased ritual forms of art. According to its curator, Christiane Macel, the Biennale would highlight artists "who are dealing with anthropological approaches." She did so, in part, by including Chilean artist Juan Downey's video sculpture "The Circle of Fires Vive" (1979) in the opening space of the Biennale itself. By inviting the Yanomami to make and watch videos of themselves, Downey inverted anthropology's conventional roles of observer and observed; by setting the monitors in a circle that reenacted a "shabono" or a gathering place, the artist created a hybrid artwork that was simultaneously viewed as contemporary art and ethnography.
Macel continued to openly entangle art and anthropology in the section dubbed "Pavilion of Shamans." The space opened with Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto's "A Sacred Place" (2017). Despite being inspired by the Huni Kuin Indians site of a sacred ayahuasca ceremony, the installation nevertheless could be directly inserted in the Western artistic tradition of "relational aesthetics," a term coined by Nicolas Bourriaud in 1998.
This presentation examines how artists such as Downey and Neto have adapted contemporaneous art historical debates and appropriated indigenous matter. It argues that by exploring Latin America's interstitial position between West and non-West, the productions of such artists can be included in mainstream "contemporary art" institutions while remaining distinctly local.
German Expressionism, Anthropology, and Colonialism
Taking the notion of the artist-as-explorer as a our starting point this paper suggests that the practice of the two German Expressionist artists, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde, evolved through a productive interplay with ethnography and anthropology in the early decades of the 20th Century.
Taking the notion of the artist-as-explorer as a our starting point this paper aims to examine the particular approach to non-Western art in the practice of two key artists of the German Expressionist movement: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde. While both artists spent time from 1910-11 studying objects and materials in ethnographic museums their practices were soon expanded to include travels to colonial regions (Nolde) and the staging of exotic studio-environments (Kirchner) as means to explore non-western life forms and behavioral patterns and coopting them into their own artistic projects. This paper rests on the hypothesis that Kirchner and Nolde's approaches to a large extent relied on imagery and ideas of early modern ethnography and evolved through a productive interplay with ethnography and anthropology as these disciplines too were subject to revisions and changing methods. Our paper will to discuss if indeed Kirchner and Nolde's methods could be described as "anthropological", while exploring possible intersections, overlaps, and exchanges between ethnology, anthropology and art in the early decades of the 20th Century. The particular cultural and political discourse in Germany in the beginning of the 20th Century, including the colonial enterprise of the German Kaiserreich and its implications, will constitute an important frame for the interpretation and anchor the analysis in the specific context of German colonial history.
Whose curiosity is it? Reflections on an anthropology of aesthetics in the 21st century
Informed by visual anthropology and ethnographic film over the past sixty years, this paper proposes a rethinking of the relationship between phenomenology, aesthetics, and anthropology. It is inspired by the thoughts on art, aesthetics and philosophy of the Danish Cobra artist, Asger Jorn.
The title paraphrases that of a recent book by the anthropologist Nicholas Thomas and a seminal article by the ethnographic film-maker, David McDougall. Informed by the development of visual anthropology and ethnographic film over the past sixty years, this paper proposes a rethinking of the relationship between phenomenology, aesthetics, and anthropology. It is inspired by the thoughts on art, aesthetics and philosophy of the Danish Cobra artist, Asger Jorn. While he focused on visual art, this presentation will explore, referring to filmic examples, the potential contribution of ethnographic film to re-contextualise anthropological notions of knowledge.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.