The Routes of Modernism | Artistic mobility, protagonists, platforms, networks.
Conference organised by Christian Kravagna and Simone Wille.
Recent art historical research has increasingly paid attention to the importance of artists’ transcultural itineraries regarding a postcolonial understanding of art history. It has been demonstrated how migration, contact, travel, and displacement have been essential for the emergence of multiple modernisms, composite identities, and hybrid aesthetics. This conference highlights modes of artistic exchange between European and non-European centres of modern art in the twentieth century that have been established against the backdrop of contemporary decolonisation movements. Speakers at the conference reflect on cross-cultural connections of artistic ventures, situating them in both regional and transnational art historical writing.
The significance of artistic mobility and the dimensions of cultural transfer take shape when the tracks of hitherto marginalised protagonists are traced and put in relation to each other. This is how the nature of networks, routes, zones, and passages can be reconsidered in order to renegotiate the cultural plurality of modernism. Taking a close look at transcultural contacts at the crossroads of regionally grounded modernisms may contribute to an unmasking of the colonialist interpretation of modernism as white and Western.
In contrast to claims that celebrate the globalisation of art since the end of the Cold War, this conference is concerned with global modernisms of the early and mid-twentieth century that are still often ignored. To discuss their movements, routes and platforms—such as magazines, exhibitions, and schools—allows for the dismantling of a monocultural conception of modernism and facilitates a better understanding of the development of artistic centres in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
Friday, November 23
Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
Aula, First floor, Augasse 2–6, 1090 Vienna
Welcome: Rector Eva Blimlinger
Introduction: Christian Kravagna
Sanjukta Sunderason: Drawing Histories: Visual Rhetorics of Freedom in Lotus
This paper explores the play of image and text, idiom and rhetoric in Lotus, the trilingual mouthpiece journal of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association begun in 1968. Emerging during the transitional decades of decolonization in the mid-twentieth century, Lotus was harnessed to transnational platforms of cultural and political activism. While it grappled with the tensions of plural languages, affiliations, and visualizations, it also carried emotive and intellectual negotiations around
the idea and limits of freedom across Asian and African contexts and peoples. Exploring the intertwinements between thought and image, writings and drawings, as well as between histories and imaginaries, I will argue that in the
genre of illustrated periodicals like Lotus , a ‘visual rhetoric’ of decolonization can be identified, where freedom is as much
of arrival as of a dialectical and incomplete struggle.
Sanjukta Sunderason is a historian, researching and writing on twentieth-century left-wing aesthetics and intellectual histories of visual art during decolonization. She is based in the Netherlands where she is Assistant Professor of Modern South Asian Studies at Leiden University.
Devika Singh: The Outstretched Hand of Humanity: Towards an Interpretation of Transmodernism in India
The paper uses the artworks Isamu Noguchi conceived in India to analyse how artistic mobility shaped the cultural plurality of modernism. Though there has been a strong interest in foreign artists’ engagement with India, they have not been integrated within a history of art in India, thus unintentionally reasserting the power of established centres to serve as places of intermixing and transculturality. The paper argues that art in India has been co-constituted by local, national and global ideological pressures and imaginations and that India served as a place of passage. It assesses how transnational exchanges resulted not only from foreign artists bringing with them innovative art and ideas, but also from artists encountering hybrid forms and concepts that had been transformed in India, starting with the Greco-Arab traditions of the Jantar Mantar observatories that inspired Noguchi.
Devika Singh is an affiliated scholar at the Centre of South Asian Studies (University of Cambridge) and a member of the Global Art Prospective (Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris). She is currently writing a book on art in post-independence India for Reaktion Books.
Q&A moderated by Simone Wille
13:00–14:30 Lunch break
Ahu Antmen: “As if Paris never had a greater artist...”: André Lhote and Turkish Modernism
In an interview in the Turkish daily Akşam , the artist Ali Sami Boyar states in a fury: “All the young artists educated in Paris these days become followers of modern art, and André Lhote is among their prophets. Whoever returns from Europe seems to have visited his studio. Lhote, Lhote, Lhote… As if Paris never had a greater artist.”
The art scene in Turkey in the 1930s would hear much more of Lhote, specifically through the “D Group” who were interested in Cubism not only as a new artistic style, but a modern visual language that could serve as the metaphor for new Turkey. These artists found in the artistic discourse of Lhote not only a vision for the future, but the safe anchor of Western classical tradition, a significant reference in a culture inclined towards Western values as the path towards modernization. This paper looks at how André Lhote, rather than other modern artists, became such a significant figure in internalizing an idea of modernism in Turkey.
Ahu Antmen is an associate professor of modern and contemporary art at Marmara University Faculty of Fine Arts in Istanbul. She has contributed to various publications, including Artists in their Time (2015), Unleashed: Contemporary Art from Turkey (2010) and Beyond Imagined Uniqueness: Nationalisms in Contemporary Perspective (2010).
Mehri Khalil: Cairo, Paris, and Beyond: The Networks that Shaped Modern Egyptian Art
This presentation explores modern Egyptian art by examining the travels, cross-cultural connections and dynamics of three artists. Mahmoud Mokhtar, Samir Rafea and Hamed Abdalla were three politically engaged artists who created intensive networks in Cairo where they grew up, and then in Paris where their journeys abroad began. The three would later travel to a number of countries around the world, including Algeria and Denmark. While Paris was a place of convergence where the artists confronted the reality of the Orientalist gaze, they quickly broke down these perceptions and fully integrated themselves into the international artistic life that the capital provided. In summary, this paper will
enable its readers to discern between the hybrid and composite identities that shaped these artists’ lives so that they
may better understand the cultural plurality of modern Egyptian art.
Mehri Khalil is an Egyptian artist and a PhD candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where she explores transcultural influences on art, and more particularly, Egyptian artists in Paris. She holds a master’s degree in Arts
Administration and Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Q&A moderated by Noit Banai
16:00–16:15 Coffee break
Simone Wille: St. Margarethen and the potentiality of trans-national postwar sculpture: Opening pathways for a radically new artistic subjectivity
The core idea for launching the European Sculptor Symposium in St. Margarethen, Austria, co-initiated by the artist Karl Prantl (1923–2010) in 1959, was the desire to reach across frontiers and to establish aesthetic and formal positions within the changing space of the postwar era. Until 1976 international sculptors gathered here almost every year for several weeks with a like-minded spirit to create work under circumstances that are free from the constraints of the studio space and national confinement. St. Margarethen nurtured a new artistic subjectivity in an attempt to propose a unique, off-center along with a transnational mode of artistic operation. This paper will investigate some of the routes that led artists such as Alina Szapocznikov, Magdalena Wiecek, Krishna Reddy and Makoto Fujiwara, to participate in the symposium in a remote place in Austria.
Simone Wille is an art historian, researching and writing on twentiethcentury trans-regional artistic movements. Her publications include her book Modern Art in Pakistan. History, Tradition, Place. Routledge , 2015. Her current research project titled: Patterns of Trans-regional Trails. The materiality of art works and their place in the modern era. Bombay, Paris, Prague, Lahore, ca. 1920s to early 1950s , is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
Q&A moderated by Christian Kravagna
17:00 Wine & Bread
Saturday, November 24
mumok cinema, Museumsquartier, 1070 Vienna
15:00 Welcome: Matthias Michalka
Introduction: Simone Wille
Maurita Poole: Hale Woodruff and the Southland
Around 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, the artist Hale Woodruff completed an oil painting entitled Southland . A depiction of environmental degradation, the work addressed an issue greatly affecting the lives of people residing in rural areas in the South and Midwest of the United States. It is unknown whether Southland was created before, during, or after the artist’s apprenticeship with Diego Rivera in Mexico during the summer of 1936. While stylistically this painting does not share an affinity with Rivera’s work, it includes a political undertone akin to works within the Mexican muralist and
social realist traditions. Here, a critical emphasis is placed on how this fulcrum piece draws upon the artist’s intimate understanding of European Modernisms, an awareness of the African American literary tradition, and the latest trends within the field of American art.
Maurita N. Poole, Ph.D. is director and curator at Clark Atlanta University Art Museum (formerly Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries). As a curator, she has developed exhibitions that highlight the work of artists of African descent. Her current research interest is the role of transnational engagement on the development of African American art.
Christian Kravagna: The Art of Liberation: Viktor Löwenfeld and African American Modernism
When the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened its first group show of African American artists in 1943, the exhibition was curated by Austrian art educator Viktor Löwenfeld. Young Negro Art displayed the works of eight students from the fine arts class at Hampton Institute established by Löwenfeld shortly after his appointment at the Black College in Virginia. How did it come that an Austrian Jew who fled Nazi-Austria in 1938 would play a major part in the formation of African American modern art? As a case study in transmodern art history, this paper explores the circumstances of the MoMA exhibition and discusses the peculiar position of a Jewish refugee in the educational system of the racially
segregated South by tracing the influence of Löwenfeld’s approach to art and race on artists like John Biggers and Elizabeth Catlett.
Christian Kravagna is professor of Postcolonial Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. His studies in the art history of contact and transcultural thinking have been published in the book Transmoderne: Eine Kunstgeschichte
des Kontakts (Berlin 2017). In 2013 he co-edited the book Transcultural Modernisms .
Q&A moderated by Eva Kernbauer
17:00–17:30 Coffee break
Gabriele Genge and Angela Stercken: Frank Bowling in Dakar 1966: Framings of an (im-) possible artistic exchange
When the British-Guyanese artist Frank Bowling won the Grand Prize for Contemporary Arts with his painting Big Bird at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar in 1966, this event wasn’t even brought up in the classical narratives of modernism: Clearly, the artist is known for his challenging the New York School by the painting Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman (1968), but little is known about the circumstances of his contribution for Dakar, where one of the most prominent artists of the Art School of Dakar, the artist Iba N’Diaye, curated the exposition of contemporary art under the title
Tendances et confrontations . This case seems quite typical for the lacks that art history of modernism has to deal with, and it provides an interesting starting point for our investigation of transcultural contacts and their impediments.
Gabriele Genge is professor and chairholder of Art History and Art Theory at the University Duisburg-Essen (Germany). Researches are focused on postcolonialism, sacrality and migration. Among recent publications: Art History and Fetishism Abroad: Global Shiftings in Media and Methods (co-ed. A. Stercken, 2014). Angela Stercken is an art historian, writer and curator. She held a deputy professorship for contemporary art history at the University of Essen. Among her books is Art History and Fetishism Abroad: Global Shiftings in Media and Methods , (co-ed. G. Genge, 2014). Her studies on artistic exchanges in contemporary African and African American art within the research project The Anachronic and the Present: Aesthetic perception and artistic concepts of temporality in the Black Atlantic (DFG-SPP 1688) will be published in 2020.
Q&A moderated by Eva Kernbauer and Christian Kravagna
Marta Edith Holecková and Tereza Stejskalová Forgotten Internationalism: Cultural Difference in 1960’s Czechoslovak Film
Film screening and conversation
The focus of Czechoslovak foreign policy on Africa, Asia and Latin America took various forms after the World War II. Apart from economic and military cooperation, a growing number of university scholarships were offered to students from Third World countries coming to Czechoslovakia. The University of 17th November, a special institution for foreign students, was founded in 1961. As a result, the Czechoslovakian society was for the first time confronted with
growing numbers of people coming from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The coexistence of foreign students and Czechoslovak society was not without problems but these were not discussed publicly. Films produced by students of the Film Academy in Prague (FAMU) during the 1960s, however, represent a unique document, a medium by way of which both Czechoslovak and foreign students tackled the issue.
Marta Edith Holecková is a young postdoctoral researcher. Her field of study is the history of Czechoslovak catholic dissent, contemporary history of the Czechoslovak universities and ties established between Czechoslovak scientists and the Global South during The Cold War.
Tereza Stejskalová is a curator working for tranzit.cz and associate professor of art theory at the Film Academy in Prague. Her recent projects include Biafra of Spirit. Third World Students in Czechoslovakia (National Gallery in Prague, 2017; tranzit.sk, Bratislava, 2016).
Art historian and critic, Noit Banai, is Professor of Contemporary Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Vienna; Her book on Yves Klein was published by Reaktion in London in 2014 and she is currently at work on a book project titled Between Nation State and Border State: Modernism from Universality to the Global Subject.
Eva Kernbauer is professor of Art History at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. Her research focusses on historiography and historicity in contemporary art viewed within a global perspective. Currently, she is directing the FWF-funded research project „A Matter of Historicity. Material Practices in Audiovisual Art.“