University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > CRASSH > Reimagining Modernism, Mapping the Contemporary: Critical Perspectives on Transnationality in Art

Reimagining Modernism, Mapping the Contemporary: Critical Perspectives on Transnationality in Art

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A major, two-day international conference reconceptualising modernist artistic practices from a transnational, interdisciplinary perspective.

The conference takes as its point of departure the consolidation of a new historiography of artistic modernism written at a global level and characterized by a weakening or even outright rejection of the demarcations that traditionally served to separate Western artistic practice from ‘the rest’. Influential recent studies and exhibitions have argued for the categories of cosmopolitan, rather than national, modernisms; global rather than Anglo-American conceptualism; a diasporic rather than continental Afro-modernism. These developments go beyond a tokenistic inclusion of artistic practices from formerly economically peripheral and semi-peripheral nations into the mainstream canon; they do not simply expand the group of nations understood to be ‘core’ to the development of modernism in line with changing geopolitical realities and the waning of Western hegemony. Rather, they challenge the imagined community of the nation or region as the basic unit of artistic territorialisation, focusing instead on diverse, networked artistic communities that are understood to cohere at a transnational and/or transregional level, often with particular global cities as their enabling nodes. 


As postmodernism has taken its place in history so we are obliged to rearticulate the notion of the ‘contemporary’ once again. This conference explores the ways in which doing so requires us to revisit the putative supersession of modernism, examining what types of relations may be found between modernist and contemporary transnational artistic practices Does the development of a transnational history of artistic modernism reflect the ascendancy of a genuinely postcolonial disciplinary moment, one that surrenders the idea of Western exceptionalism? Is there a risk that we are witnessing a reorientation of scholarly priorities in step with the type of selective ‘denationalization’ pursued by global capital, one that preserves deep, if no longer uniform, structural inequities between the global North and South, West and East, while continuing to rely on the power of particular nation states as its guarantor? In the name of what present, then, is the past to be reimagined?

The conference develops a critical perspective on the proliferating discourses of the transnational, considering how they have reshaped the study of modern and contemporary art and the links that are articulated between them. It focuses on scholarship which foregrounds the methodological implications, as well as the historical unfolding, of transnational developments in and between artistic and curatorial practice.

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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