The Graeco-Buddhist Style of Gandhara - a 'Storia Ideologica', Or: How a Discourse Makes a Global History of Art

By Falser, Michael | Journal of Art Historiography, December 2015 | Go to article overview

The Graeco-Buddhist Style of Gandhara - a 'Storia Ideologica', Or: How a Discourse Makes a Global History of Art


Falser, Michael, Journal of Art Historiography


Going transcultural: from World Art History to Global Art History

In the last two decades, the discipline of art history has entered a new stage of methodological debate. The ever-present challenge of what is generally summarized as globalisation (a term which, for our specific focus, describes the accelerating circulation of (a) migrating global elites, (b) aesthetic concepts and operative terms in the humanities, and (c) - last but not least - artefacts from all over the world for all kinds of exhibition environments around the planet) has certainly triggered this discussion. Various attempts have been undertaken to configure a kind of 'World Art History' - from David Summers' Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism to John Onians' Art, Culture, Nature: From Art History to World Art Studies in 2006; or from James Elkins' volume Is Art History Global? (2007) to Kitty Zijlmans' and Wilfried van Damme's World Art Studies: Exploring Concepts and Approaches (2008). The term 'World Art History' can be - broadly speaking - understood as an additive container to bring together all different historical strands and traditions of art historical terminologies and investigative practices - be they (supposedly vernacular and/or culturally homogeneous) regional or national (institutionalized) - from the last one hundred and fifty years, into one globally valid super-discipline. But what about the term 'Global Art History'?

In the German-speaking context, Hans Belting's and Andrea Buddensieg's 2011 exhibition Global Studies: Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture for the ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie) in Karlsruhe, used the term 'Global Art' in the context of contemporary artistic productions that staged primarily non-Western art - albeit through very Western lenses - within exhibitions and mega-shows. By this time, the first German-speaking Chair of Global Art History with Prof. Monica Juneja, had already been established (since 2008) within the Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context - The Dynamics of Transculturality at Heidelberg University. In her contribution to the above-mentioned exhibition catalogue, Juneja focused on non-Western artists who were forced by Western curatorial practices to perform their cultural identity through an ever-recognisable kind of self-indigenising art practice. Additionally, she criticised various 'World Art History' approaches and formulated a rough questionnaire on how a new discipline of Global Art History could become operational. Was the originally Western discipline of art history participating in the 19th-century 'territorial-cum-political logic of modern nation-states' by (a) establishing supposedly universal taxonomies of art forms from all around the world, and (b), labelling artworks as, for example, 'Islamic' or 'Modernist' and subordinating them hierarchically within the civilizational categories of Europe's institutional (such as violent colonial) regimes? A global approach would - according to Juneja's counter-position to the above-mentioned works advocating 'World Art History' - necessitate a decidedly transcultural methodology: 'Casting art history in a global/transcultural frame would involve questioning the taxonomies and values that have been built into the discipline since its inception and have been taken as universal'. This approach would call for: 'new units of investigation that are more responsive to the logic of objects and artists on the move [as] historical units and boundaries cannot be taken as given; rather, they have to be constituted as a subject of investigation, as products of spatial and cultural displacements, [being] defined as participants in and as contingent upon the historical relationships in which they are implicated'. 1 As Juneja explained further in her introduction 'Kunstgeschichte and kulturelle Differenz' to the themed volume Universalität der Kunstgeschichte? in the kritische berichte of 2012, the aim of a transculturally embedded art history was 'to flesh out the multiple processes of appropriation, differentiation, reconfiguration and translation in new correlations in order to interrogate the constitutive repercussions of these processes on the participating agents and visual systems'. …

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