Magazine article Artforum International


Magazine article Artforum International


Article excerpt


IT WAS EXCITING to find Art forum opening a debate on exhibition histories in relation to art history, via Claire Bishop's review of the two-volume Making Art Global [March 2014], the second and fourth books in Afterall's Exhibition Histories series. The Afterall approach to the new field differs somewhat from Bishop's, and I thought some comments on the distinctions might be of interest.

The plurality of exhibition histories, in place of a monolithic exhibition history, is important to the Afterall model. Something of this plurality is represented in an important early book Bishop does not mention in her summary of the early literature in the field, perhaps only because she restricts herself to books in English. Die Kunst der Ausstellung (The Art of Exhibitions, 1991), edited by Bernd Kaiser and Katharina Hegewisch, is significant for us because, unlike Bruce Altsbuler's ensuing monograph and Ian Dunlop's before it, different authors--with different approaches to writing--were invited to convey the history of different contemporary art exhibitions of the twentieth century. Contrary to the way Bishop reads them, each volume in Afterall's book series brings several voices to bear on the same exhibition or cluster of exhibitions. Within and across books, no single historiographic mode is insisted on.

Afterall rejects exhibition histories as an "art-historical subgenre." One of the tantalizing prospects of this nascent field is that, distinct from art history, and indeed curatorial studies, it is developing across a worldwide network of initiatives rather than being genealogically rooted in North America and Western Europe. Another is that, contrary to Bishop's assertions, exhibition histories does not necessarily mean a focus on institutional structures at the expense of art--the work of museology, for instance, may play a role, but the defining point is to analyze art in its becoming public, as it takes shape in collective experience and kindles debate.

In terms of issues more specific to the exhibitions considered in Afterall's paired volumes, I think it is important to emphasize that "Magiciens de la Terre" (1989) was billed as "the first worldwide exhibition of contemporary art," not as "the world's first global art show." The difference is more crucial than it might initially seem, given the distinct philosophical implications of global and worldwide. Actually, Bishop's slip appears to naturalize the very case she suggests my own contribution to the books overstates. As argued by Peter Osborne a year ago, for instance: "Globalization represents a new spatialization of historical temporality: a mapping of planetary wholeness as 'globe' onto that irreducibly phenomenological concept of 'world' that emerged in the course of European colonialism to provide the geographical space of the concept of history."

Bishop's description of "Magiciens" as "almost universally panned" inadvertently perpetuates something of what she describes with the term ethnocentric crimes. Specifically, she seems to assume that what is published in one's own language counts for all that is written. Her statement is surprising, given the international press reviewed in Making Art Global (Part 2): 'Magiciens de la Terre' 1989, and also in light of the paper given by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak during the show (and published for the first time in the Afterall book), which offers a carefully measured response that cannot be described as a panning. One of Spivak's points also reiterates the significance of the "worldwide" (as opposed to "global") claim made in the strapline for the show--an argument that draws on Heidegger before offering a gendered critique, in French, of world (le monde) in relation to the land (la terre) referenced in the show's title. But my point here is not that when panned the exhibition did not deserve criticism--nor that Spivak, for instance, defended it against its failings--but rather that appraisal of its critical reception demands greater appreciation of debate, and in more than one language. …

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