The World Goes Modern: New Globalized Framings of the Postwar Era in the Contemporary Exhibitions after Year Zero and the World Goes Pop

By Handberg, Kristian | Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

The World Goes Modern: New Globalized Framings of the Postwar Era in the Contemporary Exhibitions after Year Zero and the World Goes Pop


Handberg, Kristian, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture


As subject to musealization the arts and culture of the postwar era of the 1950s and 1960s are currently reassessed from being a too well-known and slightly conformed in-between age easily overshadowed by the WW2-years and the notorious late-1960s to a past that the present is eager to engage with. Remarkably, this implies a shifting perspective from hegemonic Western modernism to a multiple modernities view emphasizing different cultural narratives of modernity as characterizing the era and the configuration of artistic modernism. This new framing of the recent past is carried out in academic discourses as well as in museal and curatorial practice-and, as the case studies of this article show, not just in smallscale, experimental formats, but in major presentations at large museums aimed at a wider audience as well, profoundly testifying to the interest in the era.

Two recent exhibitions aimed at reassessing of postwar modern culture in a global perspective are:

1. After Year Zero at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, and Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2015): an experimental curatorial researchbased exhibition discussing the relations between Europe and the new nations in Africa and Asia after 1945 ("Year Zero"), combining archive material from the postwar-era with contemporary artworks and research (www. artmuseum.pl/en/wystawy/after-year-zero).

2. The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern (20152016). A large-scale presentation at the popular Tate Modern museum in London telling "the global story of pop art from Latin America to Asia, and from Europe to the Middle East," "showing how different cultures and countries responded to the movement" (www.tate.org.uk/ whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/ ey-exhibitionworld-goes-pop).

Method and use of theory

My article will discuss these cases and different types of exhibitions (experimental curatorial research with activist agenda vs. "blockbuster" presentation) as a reassessment of the postwar era of the 1950s and 1960s in detail as well as overall perspective. After a short introduction of the new approaches forming the expanded field ofmodernism, including the multiple modernities theory of Schmuel Eisenstadt and its implementation in art history, as in the work of Kobena Mercer, I will analyze the two exhibitions. I will try to identify the curatorial agenda drawing on sources from the exhibition itself, its surrounding "paratext"1 (accompanying communication and promotion) as well as the critical reflection following the exhibitions in conferences and articles, and evaluate how this intent is actually carried out in the exhibitions through comparative exhibition analyses. Recent thinking about curatorial research stresses that the role of the curator is not to produce exhibitions, but that the exhibition is one outcome ofa research process (Sheik 2014). The topic of curatorial research and the research exhibition has tended to be aimed at a specific scene at the art world of experimental venues and a specialist audience of well-informed insiders. Comparing a project from this scene (After Year Zero at the HKW) with an exhibition associated with a different sphere (The World Goes Pop at the well-attended Tate Modern) will contribute to a discussion of research through exhibitions. The exhibition-focused analysis will not go into in-depth analysis of the individual art works or perform research in the historical material itself (as in drawing any original conclusions about the artistic responses to de-colonialization or the global spread of pop art, as done in the exhibitions).

The questions of modernity, multiple or singular, are of course also a large topic beyond the reach of this case and is thus briefly introduced. It should also be noted that this is an ongoing and current topic and that the newness of these exhibitions will come to an end (at the time of writing one of them has already closed) and other relevant activities might probably appear (for instance, Haus der Kunst in Munich will present Postwar-Art between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-1965 curated by Okwui Enwezor, Ulrich Wilmes and Katy Siegel in October 2016). …

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