posted by CAA — October 07, 2019
We’re pleased to announce this year’s participants in the CAA-Getty International Program. Now in its ninth year, this international program supported by the Getty Foundation will bring fifteen new participants and five alumni to the 2020 Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois.
The participants—professors of art history, curators, and artists who teach art history—hail from countries throughout the world, expanding CAA’s growing international membership and contributing to an increasingly diverse community of scholars and ideas. This year we are adding participants from four countries not included previously—Bolivia, Saudi Arabia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Singapore—bringing the total number of countries represented by the program to fifty. Selected by a jury of CAA members from a highly competitive group of applicants, the participants will receive funding for travel expenses, hotel accommodations, conference registration, CAA membership, and per diems for out-of-pocket expenditures.
At a one-day preconference colloquium, to be held this year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the fifteen new participants will discuss key issues in the international study of art history together with five CAA-Getty alumni and several CAA members from the United States, who also will serve as hosts throughout the conference. The preconference program will delve deeper into subjects discussed during last year’s program, including such topics as postcolonial and Eurocentric legacies, interdisciplinary and transnational methodologies, and the intersection of politics and art history.
This is the third year that the program includes five alumni, who provide an intellectual link between previous convenings of the international program and this year’s events. They also serve as liaisons between CAA and the growing community of CAA-Getty alumni. In addition to serving as moderators for the preconference colloquium, the five alumni will present a new Global Conversation during the 2020 conference titled Things Aren’t Always as they Seem: Art History and the Politics of Vision.
The goal of the CAA-Getty International Program is to increase international participation in the organization’s activities, thereby expanding international networks and the exchange of ideas both during and after the conference. CAA currently includes members from sixty countries around the world. We look forward to welcoming the following participants at the next Annual Conference in Chicago.
2020 Participants in the CAA-Getty International Program
Irene Bronner, Senior Lecturer, NRF South African Research Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Eiman Elgibreen, Assistant Professor of Art History, The Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Daria Jaremtchuk, Associate Professor of Art History, University of São Paulo, Brazil
Ganiyu Jimoh, Lecturer, University of Lagos, Nigeria, and Postdoctoral Fellow, Arts of Africa and Global Souths research program, Department of Fine Art, Rhodes University, South Africa
Mariana Levytska, Research Associate, Department of Art Studies, Ethnology Institute, UNAS (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine)
Daniela Lucena, Head of Research Team, National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Ali Mahfouz, Director, Mansoura Storage Museum, Ministry of Egyptian Antiquities, Egypt
Priya Maholay-Jaradi, Convenor, Art History, National University of Singapore
Valeria Maria Paz Moscoso, Academic Coordinator and Advisor, Universidad Catolica Boliviana San Pablo, La Paz, Bolivia
Daria Panaiotti, Curator of Photography and Research Associate, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Aleksandra Paradowska, Assistant Professor, University of Fine Arts, Poznań, Poland
Saurabh Tewari, Assistant Professor, School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal, India
Giuliana Vidarte, Chief Curator and Head of Exhibitions, Museum of Contemporary Art of Lima and Peruvian University of Applied Sciences, Peru
Julia Waite, Curator of New Zealand Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, New Zealand
Jean-Arsène Yao, University Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Côte d’Ivoire
Abiodun Akande, Senior Lecturer, University of Lagos, Nigeria
Pedith Chan, Assistant Professor of Cultural Management, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Iro Katsaridou, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, Greece
Cristian Emil Nae, Associate Professor, George Enescu National University of Arts, Iasi, Romania
Nora Veszpremi, Research Associate, Continuity/Rupture: Art and Architecture in Central Europe 1918–1939 (CRAACE), Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic
International Review: Community-Led Engagement with Contemporary Craft, Design, and Architecture in Aotearoa
posted by CAA — October 03, 2019
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Linda Tyler, a New Zealand curator, writer, and academic who is Convenor of Museums and Cultural Heritage at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
In the late 1990s, frustrated by the lack of a dedicated exhibition space for their work, a group of craft practitioners spearheaded an initiative to develop a dedicated craft gallery for Aotearoa (the Māori name for New Zealand). Following a successful bid for ongoing arts funding, Objectspace opened in 2004 in an old bank in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. It was the first of its kind, and after a dozen years of successful operation on this site, it underwent a transformation in 2017, moving into a purpose-designed building, and extending its scope to include architecture and design (Fig. 1).
Still the only public institution dedicated to craft and design in the country, in 2018 it extended its mandate even further. Seeking to increase engagement with Māori, Pacific, and Asian audiences and also to diversify the communities of makers which it supported, Objectspace launched the Maukuuku Project, a program of community-led activity, guided by the kaupapa (principles) of co-leadership, access, and advocacy.
The first project in the new building began with a two-year engagement with members of the Tuvaluan community (a Pacific island people), culminating in a solo exhibition of craft by Lakiloko Keakea (Fig. 2). Challenging traditional notions of what types of crafts are understood to be part of the discourse, Maukuuku aims to change the system, recognizing the origin of many galleries and museums as institutions of colonization. Rather than inviting people into the gallery to work within its organization in a tokenistic way, the idea is to transform the organizational culture by turning over the gallery’s resources to a range of source communities from across Moana Oceania, Asia, and other migrant cultures who now call Aotearoa home.
The second Maukuuku project, coordinated by Zoe Black, the new staff member charged with effecting the new direction at Objectspace, was Alive, by Kim Hak. Sponsored by the Rei Foundation, an Auckland-based Japanese funder dedicated to supporting research about peace and conflict, Alive brought artist Kim Hak from his home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to meet with twelve families who escaped the genocide in Cambodia in the late 1970s and resettled in Aotearoa as refugees. Wanting to document specific items that they brought with them—both precious and practical—Hak displayed the actual objects beside his photographs (Fig. 3). Often battered in transit, the focus on these material objects in the gallery setting prompted appreciation of the ordeal their owners had suffered and became a metaphor for the survival of their culture.
In a very short time, Objectspace has shown its ability to promote and advocate for art forms that have been marginalized, and communities that have never before been engaged by the gallery or museum sector in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Its ambition to introduce cultural change within the craft and design sector nationally, through forming co-leadership relationships with diverse communities of makers throughout Aotearoa is admirable. Already there has been increased engagement from Māori, Pacific, and Asian audiences, and it seems well underway toward fulfilling its mission to remove barriers to access.
The Maukuuku program will feature in a chapter written by Objectspace director Kim Paton for the forthcoming publication, Companion on Contemporary Craft, edited by Namita Gupter Wiggers, (Wiley Blackwell) to be published in 2020.
posted by CAA — August 29, 2019
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Swati Chembakur, an architectural historian at Jnanapravaha, a center for the arts in Mumbai, India. The author is also a 2019 alumna of the CAA-Getty International Program.
In 2018, the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) partnered with the Đà Nẵng Museum of Cham Sculpture in central Vietnam to produce a remarkable and visually striking centenary catalogue of its world-renowned collection of the sacred arts of the Cham people of Vietnam. The publication of Vibrancy in Stone: Masterpieces of the Đà Nẵng Museum of Cham Sculpture was timed to coincide with the renovation and expansion of the museum.
Beginning in the second century CE, settlements appeared along the central coast of what became Vietnam. The Chams probably migrated over the ocean from Borneo and were accomplished navigators. Their ports were the first call for any ship heading from China to India and the Arab world. Their role in the medieval maritime trade grew steadily and reached an apogee in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the great neighboring empire of Cambodia declined. The prosperity won from trade led to large scale temple construction earlier than the Cambodians.
When tourism resumed in Vietnam after the wars of the twentieth century, the museum quickly became a prime attraction in the port city of Đà Nẵng. It is the world’s only museum devoted exclusively to the art of ancient Champa, the name given to the civilization of the Cham people. With 500 objects on display, its collection far outnumbers those in the Hanoi and Ho chi Minh City History museums, as well as the Musée Guimet in Paris.
In the late nineteenth century, fifty sculptures were gathered by a French colonial administrator and amateur/enthusiastic collector, Charles Lemire, in a public garden at Tourane (Đà Nẵng), forming the embryo of the future museum collection. Some years later, French architect and archaeologist Henri Parmentier took charge of the neglected artworks and proposed a museum for their protection, which opened in 1919 (Fig. 2). He compiled the first comprehensive catalogue.
French colonial research formed the basis of Cham studies. Today a growing number of Vietnamese archaeologists and art historians are taking an active interest in this subject, expanding our understanding of the ancient art. Ethnic Cham scholars still remain few in number. Almost seventy years after Parmentier’s catalogue, a short guidebook to the museum was published about Cham history and art (Trần Kỳ Phương, 1987). It marked the first catalogue of the collection compiled by Vietnamese researchers and highlighted the link between Vietnamese and French research. After the devastating twentieth-century wars in Vietnam, some of the objects in Parmentier’s 1919 catalogue had disappeared, been damaged, or moved to other institutions. At the same time, many recently discovered artifacts have been added to the museum inventory.
Knowledge of Champa’s history, culture, and art, and an appreciation of its richness and uniqueness, has gradually progressed with the accumulation of new data and the engagement of various scholarly disciplines by both national and international scholars. Champa studies no longer appear in only French-language journals, as in the early twentieth century, but now attract a growing number of scholars from Europe, Asia, and North America, who work alongside Vietnamese experts.
Vibrancy in Stone is organized into two parts. Part I includes fourteen essays about the history and culture of Champa by Vietnamese and international scholars. Part II presents a stunningly illustrated chronology of Cham sculpture accompanied by meticulous descriptions and comments by contemporary scholars.
The introductory essay by museum director Vo Văn Thắng discusses the history of the museum, its collection, changing installations over the years, and the current renovation and expansion of the building. Subsequent essays by Kenneth Hall, John Whitmore and Đỗ Trường Giang address the importance of several Champa ports extending along the central Vietnam coast and their active role in the maritime trade network. Champa was probably never a unified state or kingdom but rather a series of loosely linked smaller polities. Its capitals were widely separated settlements on different parts of the coast, which took turns assuming hegemony over others.
Whitmore’s essay delineates fully for the first time the rise of Vijaya (in today’s Bình Đinh province) as the culture’s capital in the ninth century to its sudden demise in the fifteenth century.
Several essays address the Hindu-Buddhist religion, its rituals, archeology, and inscribed objects (by Shivani Kapoor, Ann-Valérie Schweyer, John Guy, Arlo Griffiths, Lâm Thị Mỹ Dung, and—full disclosure—myself) while others (by Trần Kỳ Phương and Parul Pandya Dhar) focus on the architecture, taking the reader through the history of Cham temples and highlighting the evolution of key construction techniques and design features that produced a series of tall, distinctive and elegant brick towers along the coastline (Fig. 3).
The iconography of the beautiful and vibrant Cham sculptures erected in these towers—referenced in the catalogue title—is the subject of chapters by Thierry Zéphir, Grace Chiao-Hui Tu, and Peter D. Sharrock. Cham art has hitherto been almost exclusively studied through an Indic lens but Hui-Tu’s work brings out many new and unseen Sinitic aspects in Cham sacred art. For example, a ninth century monumental sandstone Buddha from Đồng Dương monastery is seated in the “European” position with pendant feet and palms resting on the knees (Fig. 4). While Buddhas seated with pendant legs can be found in Indian, Southeast Asian, and Chinese Buddhist art traditions, this particular hand posture is seen only in China and Đồng Dương.
The question of the relationship between Cham and neighboring Khmers forms the core of the paper by Peter D. Sharrock. Addressing the beautiful Khmer bronze of a naga-enthroned Buddha discovered by the French in the main Cham temple outside Vijaya, he points out that this icon was never part of Cham iconography. He then uses art historical and epigraphic evidence to untie a series of long-distorting knots in the history of the Khmer-Cham relationship.
Part II of Vibrancy in Stone focuses on masterpieces of the museum, one of which is the beautiful bronze illustrated in Figure 5, found in the Đồng Dương monastery in 1978. Earlier labelled as Tārā or Prajñāparāmita, here it has been correctly identified as the female aspect of Avalokitesvara and the main cult image of the monastery.
Other masterpieces include the most famous Mỹ Sơn Śivalinga pedestal (Fig. 6a-b), the only Cham sculpture that records the daily spiritual activities of ascetics performing rituals, practicing meditation, conversing, playing musical instruments, treating diseases, etc., and a widely acknowledge high relief of a Trà Kiệu dancer draped in beads (Fig. 7).
Vibrancy in Stone brings together some of the most priceless and rare works of Cham art. As such, it proclaims the value and artistry of works by the Cham people whose heirs today are an ethnic minority in Vietnam. Equally important, it gathers together these beautiful and rare works of art as a resource for scholars, students, and connoisseurs alike.
posted by CAA — August 01, 2019
This article was written by Janet Landay, project director of the CAA-Getty International Program since its inception.
This is open season for the CAA-Getty International Program; that is, we’re accepting applications from international scholars between now and August 23rd to participate in next year’s program at the Annual Conference in Chicago. This will be the ninth year of the program and we’re looking for academics, curators, or artists who teach art history from countries not well represented in CAA’s membership (primarily non-Western countries from the global south, all parts of Asia, and Eastern Europe). Specifically, we want to bring scholars who are advancing our understanding of the visual arts, be it through art history, visual studies, or any number of intersecting disciplines, such as aesthetics, history, post-colonial studies, gender studies, cultural heritage research, etc. The range of topics addressed by participants since the program began nine years ago is remarkable, as exemplified in last year’s programs included at the end of this article.
The mission of the CAA-Getty International Program is to bring new voices to the CAA community to enrich the conversation about globalization and inclusion in visual arts scholarship. Since it began in 2012, the program has brought 120 scholars from 46 countries to its conferences, including representatives from Argentina, Albania, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, China, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ghana, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, and Vietnam. Many of these scholars have returned to CAA conferences as speakers, session chairs, and members of CAA’s International Committee. They have also contributed articles to CAA’s publications and collaborated with scholars in the United States that they met while attending a conference.
Each year, US-based CAA members serve as hosts to the international scholars, introducing them to colleagues, guiding them through the conference’s vast array of sessions and programs, and frequently taking them to museums and collections in town. To date, over 60 CAA members have participated in the program, supported with honoraria from the National Committee for the History of Art.
In 2020, we will bring fifteen new scholars and five alumni to the Chicago conference. Please help us spread the word of this grant opportunity to colleagues or institutions in the regions mentioned above by sharing this link to the program’s description and application.
And if you would like to participate as a host, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What follows is the program for two key events from the 2019 CAA-Getty International Program: a preconference colloquium on February 12th on international issues in art history at which twenty scholars participated, and an alumni conference session on February 14th that featured five CAA-Getty alumni. Included below is the program for the February 12th colloquium, followed by the abstracts for the February 14th alumni conference session.
GLOBAL CONVERSATIONS 2019
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Starr Foundation Hall, Parsons School of Design
8:30 AM Coffee, welcome, and introductions
9:15 AM Examples of Defining or Constructing Aesthetics in Chinese and Japanese Art
Chair: Chen Liu, Harvard-Yenching Institute, Harvard University, 2018-19
The Making of Scenic Sites: Landscape Painting, Tourism and Nationalism in Republican China
Pedith Chan, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Art by Japanese Prisoners in New Zealand during WWII
Richard Bullen, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Lucy Driscoll and Developing a Theory of Chinese Painting
Jian Zhang, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou
10:30 AM Orientalism/Occidentalism
Chair: Nadhra Khan, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan
From Occidentalism to an Occidentalizing Art: An Iranian Gaze to the Occident
Negar Habibi, University of Geneva, Switzerland
Deconstructing Imperialism: The Intersection of Religion, Politics, and Design in the Iconography of a Christian Saint
Halyna Kohut, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Ukraine
Orientalism and Female Portraiture in Nineteenth-Century Painting in Romania
Oana Maria Nicuță Nae, George Enescu National University of Arts, Iasi, Romania
11:45 AM How Do We Approach Religious Art?
Chair: Nazar Kozak, Department of Art Studies, Ethnology Institute, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
The Last Judgment in Spanish America as Social Rhetoric of Salvation and Damnation
Tamara Quírico, State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Dancers, Musicians, Brahmins and Ṛṣis: Understanding the Temple Worship of the Pāśupata sect in Angkor, Cambodia
Swati Chemburkar, Southeast Asian Art and Architecture, Jnanapravaha, Mumbai, India
You Cannot See It: Access to Religious Artistic Materials
Stephen Fọlárànmí, Ọbáfémi Awólọ́wọ̀ University, Ilé-Ifè, Nigeria
1:00 PM Lunch
2:30 PM The Body, Identity, and Artistic Agency
Chair: Katarzyna Cytlak, Center for Slavic and Chinese Studies, University of San Martín, Argentina
Shifting Female Identity: Female Cross-dressing in Southeast Nigeria
Chukwuemeka Nwigwe, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
Challenging the “Unconscious”: Agnaldo Manoel dos Santos and the Revision of Afro-Brazilian Art
Juliana Ribeiro da Silva Bevilacqua, University of Campinas (Unicamp), Brazil
The Reinvention of the Body in Volatile Times: Political and Artistic Intersections between Buenos Aires and New York in the 1980s
Viviana Usubiaga, National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), University of San Martín/University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
3:45 PM Politics and Art in Dark Times
Chair: Sarena Abdullah, School of the Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
A Flame For Freedom
Marko Stamenkovic, ZETA Contemporary Art Center, Tirana, Albania
Sanitizing Memory through Erasure: Post-apartheid Nostalgia in Contemporary Visual Art Practice
Zamansele Nsele, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
The Crisis Displayed: Greece’s Participation at the Venice Art Biennale
Iro Katsaridou, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, Greece
5:00 PM Wine Reception
GLOBAL CONVERSATIONS 2019
ALUMNI CONFERENCE SESSION
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Creative Pedagogy: Mapping In-between Spaces Across Cultures
Nazar Kozak (Chair), National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Art-historical curricula tend to provide imaginary “racks” on which each artwork could be assigned to chronological and geopolitical shelves. In practice, however, such systems has difficulties in accommodating phenomena that fall in-between proposed categorizations. Their presence in art-historical classrooms corresponds to cosmology ‘s Dark matter: it shapes the Universe while remains directly unobserved. Hybrid phenomena have produced an important impact on art scenes across historical periods and cultures, and illumination of this impact plays crucial role in making art history more fully global discipline. This session addresses cross-cultural entanglements and overlaps in which borders looses their fix and reveals their porosity. Structured around creative pedagogy it discusses specific historic cases from the teaching perspectives moving towards inclusive and collaborative paradigm especially in mixed-class environments engaging students and faculty from different countries. The panelist, who are the CAA-Getty International Program alumni from Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, share their teaching methods that proves efficiency in navigating across cultures as well and theoretical optics providing optimal focus on transcultural dialog and reciprocal enrichment.
An Italian in China: The Curious Case of Giuseppe Castiglione
Chen Liu, Tsinghua University
What happens when China and the West encounter each other? A clash of traditions may generate unexpected art forms that defy categorization, as tellingly revealed in the life and works of the multi-talented Italian Jesuit artist Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), court painter to three Qing Emperors. Despite his popularity in China both during and after his lifetime, he is surprisingly little known in the West beyond those who specialize in classical Chinese art, with sparse literature in languages other than Chinese (mainly in Italian and French). Existing studies of Castiglione’s works, focusing largely on his paintings, tend to emphasize the “Western” trend he initiated in early modern China or his fusion of “European” and “Chinese” traditions, leading to oversimplification of both. A novel teaching course featuring cultural hybridity in both its subject and audience (a mixed group of Chinese and Western students) may help address such problems of transcultural interpretation and reception as exposed by the curious case of Castiglione. Using Castiglione’s art – painting, decoration and architecture – as a mirror, and by posing previously neglected questions such as “what is ‘non-Chinese’ or ‘non-Western’ in his works, and “which ‘Chinese’ and ‘European’ artistic styles/techniques did he adopt, adapt, or reject”, the course seeks to stimulate more profound reflections on the sophisticated, sometimes ambiguous traditions of both Chinese and European art, their compatibility and incompatibility, and to illuminate the confused in-between areas.
Pedagogy of the Transborders: Reviewing East European art from the perspective of transatlantic cultural exchanges with Latin American and African cultures
Katarzyna Cytlak, Centro de Estudios de los Mundos Eslavos y Chinos, Universidad Nacional de San Martín
Developed since the 1990s by Latin American thinkers, decolonial theory became an effective tool to teach East European art. Concepts, such as “border thinking” (Walter Mignolo) and “transmodernity” (Enrique Dussel), which dealing with bicultural identity in Latin America and postulating a non-hierarchical, inter-epistemic dialogue between cultures, offer a new framework to reconsider transatlantic artistic exchanges and cultural polarizations within the European continent. The paper will analyze how transmodern and decolonial approaches could shed new light on East European art and its dialogue with non-Western cultures. Quotations of customs and rites from Polish folklore by the Polish/Mexican artist Marcos Kurtycz were the result of his biculturalism, as well as an artistic strategy aiming at distinguishing himself on the Mexican scene. Self–identification with African cultures and politics by the Polish artists of the 1980s (Marek Sobczyk, The Luxus Group) could be explained as proof of the artists’ criticism of the Non-Aligned Movement, the symptom of their “radicalized utopian inclusivity” (Boris Groys), and as their critical comment on the late Socialist societies in the processes of Westernization.
Images of Guru Nanak: Locating Patterns of Words in Images
Nadhra Shahbaz Khan, Lahore University of Management Sciences
Traditional arts in the Indian subcontinent are strongly allied to oral traditions and to written text including both folklore and literature. Examples of these abound in secular and religious realms and are manifest in a large body of miniature paintings and murals showing the Hindu stories of Heer-Ranjha, Sassi-Punnoo and Dhruv Bhagat and relief panels illustrating Buddhist jataka tales and Hindu epic poems such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. This paper maps the depiction of Guru Nanak, the first of the ten Sikh gurus, and their dependence of the Indian visual vocabulary taken from folklore, literature and cultural practices. He is usually painted with a fixed set of attributes, each laden with references to cultural practices and beliefs: some long forgotten, others have remained current until this day. Modern interventions however, have obscured meanings of many of these concepts and practices making it difficult today to fully understand their significance in their iconographic program. Refreshing the forgotten relationship between the word and image promises to lead to creative pedagogical possibilities where realms of imagination, rendition and performance can be navigated to connect not only with the creators and viewers of art but also the ones who dwell in it.
Cross Cultural Encounters through Creative Pedagogy in Teaching Art History
Sarena Abdullah, Universiti Sains Malaysia
This paper explains and discuses my recent and first Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) with an American university within the context of students’ cross-cultural encounters imbedded through Art History subject(s). In the 15 weeks of Malaysian Modern Art (VHS 202) and Selected Topics In Asian Art (ARTH 294) class, my American collaborator and me, designed and aligned our art history classes pedagogy cross-culturally taking in various considerations of Malaysian and American context into our teaching outcome. This paper will discuss how we have adopted and adapted the COIL module in our own classes, and innovate our collaborative engagements using Facebook as our main platform. From tasks such as personal introductions of students from both Malaysian and American classes, group videos of their cultural/national background, to producing group videos on artworks and /or material culture from local institutions, to completing cross collaboration group work tasks—this pedagogical approach had managed to expose students to different cross-cultural realities and encounters (and even time zones) weaved into their learning experiences. This paper will discuss the context of such creative pedagogy in the context of how Art History can also be a platform to disseminate creative knowledge today.
International Review: Sun and Sea in Venice, Lithuania’s Prize-Winning Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale
posted by CAA — July 25, 2019
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Inesa Brasiske, a Lithuanian art historian, lecturer, and recent graduate from the program in Modern and Contemporary Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies (MODA) at Columbia University, New York.
Upon entering the former shipyard in the secluded Marina Militare complex located a few steps from the Arsenale, one finds a beach. More than a dozen sunbathers lie drowsily on pastel colored towels among their absentmindedly-scattered stuff, preoccupied with the usual holiday business (Fig. 1). One by one they sing out their monologues, occasionally growing into undulating choruses. The performers chant their personal dramas, complaints, and joys alongside sunscreen instructions and deadpan morning routines as viewers peruse the scene from above (Fig. 2).
An opera-performance for thirteen voices, Sun & Sea (Marina) was selected to represent Lithuania at this year’s Venice Biennale, winning the country its first Golden Lion for best national pavilion. Noted by the jury for its experimental spirit and site-specificity, the work was created by three Lithuanian artists: filmmaker and director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, writer Vaiva Grainytė, and composer and artist Lina Lapelytė. It is the second time the all-female trio united their forces in this genre. Their debut work, the opera Have a Good Day! (2013), focused on the inner lives and work routines of cashiers in a shopping center. With this follow-up, the artists continued to tap into the subject of reckless consumerism, accompanied by the same physical and emotional exhaustion that framed their first work, this time taking their exploration in an eco-critical direction.
The libretto is a set of individual, discrete stories stitched together by Grainytė who, with a poet’s economy, delivers a memorable spectrum of characters, including a wealthy mother recounting her son’s travel adventures, a workaholic engaged in self-analysis, and twins envisioning a 3D-printed biosphere. The text is charged with humor and absurdist juxtapositions in a surrealist vein; viewers witness an uneasy morphological sisterhood of floating jellyfish with plastic bottle caps, disturbing scenarios of picking chanterelles in the midst of winter, or drinking piña coladas at a barrier reef. These evocative narratives unfold through a minimalist score for synthesizer and voice composed by Lapelytė and sung by a group of performers with divergent musical backgrounds. Catchy melodies with repeating pulsing patterns running through high pitched arias and dreamy lullabies are responsible to a large extent for luring viewers into this ambiguous zone of relaxation and oblivion in the face of looming ecological disaster.
One of the most striking aspects of Sun & Sea (Marina) is the atypical positioning of the viewers vis-à-vis the scene, as they experience the opera-performance while looking down from the mezzanine which frames the sandy seaside into a horizontal tableau peppered with human and, occasionally, other-than-human bodies (Fig. 3). The director and scenographer, Barzdžiukaitė, brings a filmmaker’s eye to the work; the most recent of her own films is itself calibrated on an aerial perspective of a cormorant colony at the Lithuanian seaside. In the opera, the specific viewpoint works as a conceptual device aptly playing into the ecological theme of the piece. The non-human perspective that the audience embraces points to the limits of the anthropocentric view and suggests something alarming and at the same time slightly comical about the human species in all its flatness.
The opera was first shown in Lithuania in 2017. Arranged in the atrium of the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius, the Lithuanian version was a slightly longer piece, repeated as a series of performances throughout one day. After its premiere, the work traveled to Germany, where it was shown in a former movie theater as part of the Staatsschauspiel Dresden theater’s repertoire. It is in Venice, however, that the work has been given its most complex treatment, fully exposing its eco-critical and social potential. The opera turned into an endurance performance-cum-installation, running continuously for eight hours at a time, with no beginning or end, once (and more recently twice) a week, while for the rest of the time it is presented as a (post-apocalyptic?) sound installation devoid of any living bodies or voices. The authors did not limit their open-ended approach to experimenting with new formats alone; they also responded to local resources and communities. Under the curatorship of Lucia Pietroiusti, Curator of General Ecology and Live Programs at the Serpentine Galleries in London, the artists invited Venetian residents to perform the piece during the long run of the Biennale, commissioned the last existing printing house in the city to print the exhibition catalogue, and, together with Benjamin Reichen from the Åbäke design collective, collaborated with inmates of a local prison in a silkscreen workshop to produce the cover of the opera’s LP.
Where much of ecologically oriented art tends to amplify our sensations in order to enable us to hear more sharply and see more clearly the scale of the climate crisis and ecological collapse, Sun & Sea (Marina) operates on a rather different register. A condensed image of the status quo of the contemporary world and its dystopian future is communicated through the recognizable, the quotidian, the banal. The durational aspect of the work, which puts seemingly surplus non-scripted real-life experiences on view—performers eating their lunch, chatting, getting exhausted and resting, kids running free and playing around, dogs barking—strengthen this realistic effect as does the participatory element inviting viewers to spend some time on the beach among the singing performers.
In the end, there might be no sea in the shipyard, but the beach there is real, and it mirrors our own day-to-day needs and deeds enmeshed in the forces of late capitalism punctuated by the logic of efficiency and endless consumption of goods as well as experiences. The end of the world here is void of spectacular images and sounds, but rather presents itself as what environmental writer Rob Nixon terms a “slow violence,” wherein ecological catastrophe does not occur in a sudden blaze but in a gradual relentless deterioration. Representation of the latter, Sun & Sea (Marina) seems to propose, curiously lies between accurate account and eloquent visionariness.
posted by CAA — June 12, 2019
The Getty Foundation has awarded CAA a grant to fund the CAA-Getty International Program for a ninth consecutive year. The Foundation’s support will enable CAA to bring twenty international visual-arts professionals to the 108th Annual Conference, taking place February 12-15, 2020 in Chicago. Fifteen individuals will be first-time participants in the program and five will be alumni, returning to present papers during the conference. The CAA-Getty International Program provides funds for travel expenses, hotel accommodations, per diems, conference registrations, and one-year CAA memberships to art historians, artists who teach art history, and museum curators.
“The Getty Foundation is proud to continue its commitment to the CAA-Getty International Program and offer support that brings together diverse scholars from around the world,” says Joan Weinstein, acting director of the Getty Foundation. “CAA’s dedication to this joint program strengthens the annual conference and builds the field of art history as a global discipline.”
Since the CAA-Getty International Program’s inception in 2012, it has brought over 120 first-time attendees from 46 countries to CAA’s Annual Conference. Historically, the majority of international registrants at the conference have come from North America, the United Kingdom, and Western European countries. The CAA-Getty International Program has greatly diversified attendance, adding scholars from Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. The majority of the participants teach art history, visual studies, art theory, or architectural history at the university level; others are museum curators or researchers.
One measure of the program’s success is the remarkable number of international collaborations that have ensued, including an ongoing study of similarities and differences in the history of art among Eastern European countries and South Africa, attendance at other international conferences, publications in international journals, and participation in panels and sessions at subsequent CAA Annual Conferences. Former grant recipients have become ambassadors of CAA in their countries, sharing knowledge gained at the Annual Conference with their colleagues at home. The value of attending a CAA Annual Conference as a participant in the CAA-Getty International Program was succinctly summarized by alumnus Nazar Kozak, Senior Researcher, Department of Art Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine “To put it simply, I understood that I can become part of a global scholarly community. I felt like I belong here.”
About the Getty Foundation
The Getty Foundation fulfills the philanthropic mission of the Getty Trust by supporting individuals and institutions committed to advancing the greater understanding and preservation of the visual arts in Los Angeles and throughout the world. Through strategic grant initiatives, it strengthens art history as a global discipline, promotes the interdisciplinary practice of conservation, increases access to museum and archival collections, and develops current and future leaders in the visual arts. It carries out its work in collaboration with the other Getty Programs to ensure that they individually and collectively achieve maximum effect.
posted by CAA — June 04, 2019
Exhibition Review: Heaven and Earth in Chinese Art: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, February 2 –May 5, 2019, Sydney, Australia
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Yiqian Wu, a graduate student at the University of Sydney.
How should we humans perceive our relationship with nature? An ancient Chinese perspective of the human/nature relationship was offered by Heaven and Earth in Chinese Art: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei (Fig. 1), which was recently exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. This exhibition offered the viewer a rare opportunity to closely examine eighty-seven Chinese national treasures with the themes of “Heaven and Earth,” “Seasons,” “Places,” “Landscape,” and “Humanity.”
This article focuses on three works of arts drawn from the themes of “Heaven and Earth,” “Seasons,” and “Landscape,” and explores how each one exemplifies the Chinese philosophical concept of tian ren he yi (天人合一), unity or harmony between heaven, nature, and humanity.
1. Humanity is joined with heaven and earth
Under the theme “Heaven and Earth” a jade object titled Tri-Ring symbolizing Heaven, Earth and Humanity (Fig. 2) presented the viewer with the ancient Chinese worldview of human/nature relationships. The three individual rings, representing heaven, earth, and humanity, are interlocked by a mortise and tenon joint, allowing each ring to rotate on its axis line. For instance, this tri-ring constructs a globe when unfolded and becomes three concentric rings when laid flat.
Curator Cao Yin explains that the inner ring represents heaven, as it is carved with the motif of the sun, clouds, and stars. The outer ring, decorated with mountains and oceans, represents the earth. The middle ring, depicting the motif of the dragon to symbolize emperors, represents the human world led by emperors.
The rotation of the tri-ring symbolizes the dynamics of energy flowing and exchanging among three powers of the universe. And the interlocked connection between three rings implies the mutual restraint of power between heaven, earth, and humanity. The arrangement of three rings reflects the ancient Chinese belief that humans mediate between heaven and earth and are the central component of the ecosystem.
2. Humanity adapts to the changes of nature
Under the theme of “Seasons,” a scroll painting from the Qing dynasty displays how ancient Chinese people adapted themselves to June, one of the hottest months in the Northern Hemisphere (Fig. 3). Since animals prefer to hide in the shade to avoid the heat of June, this month was also called by ancient Chinese as fu yue (伏月, the month of hiding). Since June is also the season for the blossom of lotus flowers, he yue (荷月, the month of the lotus) was another name for June in ancient China. As the painting shows, people enjoy various recreational activities to reduce the heat, such as enjoying the breeze in a pavilion or going fishing and picking lotus flowers by riding boats on the pond.
Seasonality is a natural phenomenon that signifies the irresistible power of nature in regulating human lives. The ancient Chinese people believed that adapting to the change of seasons could result in a good harvest and personal health. In order to positively respond to nature, they divided twelve lunar months into twenty-four divisions of the solar year in their traditional calendar. Each solar term corresponds to relevant folk customs, including the timing of agricultural activities and recipes for seasonal food therapy. These cultural traditions emphasize the important role of nature in guiding everyday lives of human beings and suggest that people benefit from adapting to seasonal variation.
3. Nature is humanity’s spiritual homeland
Shan-Shui (山水, mountains and water) is a Chinese term for landscape. These two Chinese characters present the essence of the theme “Landscape” in this exhibition. In Chinese culture, mountains and water are not only the key components of natural landscape, but also the spiritual home for literati and recluses.
Liu Yinxing defines recluses as those politically exiled intellectuals living in times of war and regime change, who abandon themselves to the peace and tranquility of natural landscape. Wang Meng’s landscape painting (Fig. 4) portrays a recluse’s dreamland, in which he befriends the mountains and river. As pointed out by Liu Chengzhang, Wang Meng spent decades as a recluse. As a Han ethnic painter living in the Yuan dynasty ruled by Mongolians, Wang Meng possibly regarded himself as a political refugee and sought comforts and transcendence in nature, his spiritual homeland.
As the caption explains, the painting’s poetic imagery, such as chains of mountains, a river, peach blossoms, and a fisherman, were derived from The Peach Blossom Spring (桃花源记), a prose text written by the Six Dynasties recluse and poet Tao Yuanming. In keeping with Tao’s rendering of the ideal world, Wang Meng manifested the seamless fusion of human beings and nature by immersing the body of the human figure within the boundless beauty of nature. The relationship between the tiny human figures and the sublime landscape conveys the human being’s great reverence for nature and expresses Wang Meng’s (the reclusive painter’s) desire of being detached from the mundane world and returning to his spiritual homeland, nature.
In conclusion, the exhibition Heaven and Earth in Chinese Art: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei presented to a predominantly Western audience three main ways that ancient Chinese people pursued their harmonious relationship with nature: emphasizing that humans live in unison with nature, humans will thrive by responding to seasonal variation, and nature offers humans a spiritual home.
A SESSION AT THE 2019 CAA CONFERENCE INTRODUCED TOPICS FOR The 35th World Congress, Parts 1 and 2, of the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA)
David Roxburgh, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Islamic Art History at Harvard University, contributed the following article about the next two world congresses organized by CIHA so that CAA members can consider attending and participating. Professor Roxburgh is the current president of the National Committee for the History of Art (NCHA), the US affiliate of CIHA that connects the international committee’s work with CAA and its members to sustain the global exchange of art historical work.
Motion: Transformation and the Life of Artworks, the session sponsored by NCHA at the 2019 CAA Annual Meeting in New York, brought together scholars from the organizing committees of Italy and Brazil who will share the quadrennial 35th CIHA World Congress. The themes are Motion: Transformation, taking place in Florence in 2019, and Motion: Migrations, taking place in São Paolo in 2020. The CAA panelists comprised Marzia Faietti (Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence), Claudia Mattos Avolese (Universidade Estadual de Campinas, São Paulo), Marco Musillo (Kunsthistoriches Institut, Florence), and Christina Strunck (Friedrich-Alexander-University, Erlangen-Nürnberg), with Jesús Escobar (Northwestern University) serving as respondent and Nicola Courtright (Amherst College) as chair. The thoughtful remarks of Professor Jesús Escobar are included here for those who could not attend the panel.
The CIHA Congress in Florence will be held September 1-6, 2019, and in São Paulo September 13-19, 2020. The final program for Florence is now available.
For the São Paulo program, a call for paper submissions is available here.
NCHA recently awarded 12 travel grants to graduate students from PhD programs in the history of art from across the United States to attend the 35th CIHA Congress in Florence. A competition will be announced early in 2020 for graduate students planning to attend the CIHA Congress in São Paulo. We hope to see many art historians working in the US in Florence and São Paulo.
International Review: Opening of the Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates by Sabrina DeTurk
posted by CAA — March 21, 2019
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Sabrina DeTurk, associate professor, College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, Zayed University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
In November 2018, Dubai witnessed the opening of the Jameel Arts Centre, the city’s first non-commercial contemporary arts space (Fig. 1). Located on the banks of the Dubai Creek, in the still-developing area of the Jaddaf Waterfront, the center is a project of the Saudi-based organization Art Jameel, a foundation focused on arts and culture programming that is sponsored by the Jameel family. The Jameel Arts Centre will be programmed as a kunsthalle, featuring temporary exhibitions showcasing works drawn from the Jameel collection as well as commissioned works by contemporary artists and those on loan from other institutions. Community events and educational outreach are also key elements of the center’s programming initiatives and the 107,640 square-foot space includes facilities such as an open-access library of over 3,000 volumes as well as coworking areas. There will also be a sculpture park as well as an outdoor arena for performing arts or film screenings.
The Jameel Arts Centre’s inaugural exhibitions included a series of artist’s rooms featuring the work of women artists from the Middle East whose work has garnered critical acclaim though not always international visibility. Maha Al Malluh (Saudi Arabia), Mounira Al Solh (Lebanon), Lala Rukh (Pakistan), and Chiharu Shiota (Japan) showed work that reflected on the personal, communal, and political, sometimes all in one piece.
In Maha Al Malluh’s sculpture, Food for Thought, dozens of well-used cooking pots of all sizes are affixed to two walls of the gallery with their undersides facing the viewer. The burns, scrapes and dents on these surfaces become both a pattern and a portrait, suggesting the many meals, large and small, cooked and served in these vessels. The pots invoke both an individual and collective activity of dining. One senses that these pots have traveled far to reach their current destination, perhaps reflecting the experience of refugees who have fled from so many troubled parts of the region, often with few possessions other than simple cooking utensils and basic clothing.
Lala Rukh’s minimalist and meditative prints and video speak to the personal experience of her mother’s death as well as the changing political landscape of Southeast Asia in the 1990s. However, the darkness of the room in which the works are displayed made it all but impossible to read the contextualizing and interpretive materials that are necessary to understand the meaning of Rukh’s subtle forms.
The inclusion of a sculptural installation by Chiharu Shiota, featuring an Arabian dhow (sailing vessel) sourced from a local boatyard, struck an odd note among the rooms (Fig. 2). While Shiota’s sculpture, which featured her signature webs of red yarn, was visually compelling, there was little sense, beyond the inclusion of the local boat, of its contribution to the larger dialogues encouraged by the exhibitions. In an image-obsessed city such as Dubai, one can’t help but wonder if this installation served more as an Instagrammable photo opportunity than as a work of serious contemporary art.
The inaugural group exhibition at Jameel Arts Centre, Crude, was curated by Murtaza Vali and featured the work of eighteen artists and artist collectives. In the show’s catalogue, Antonia Carver, the Director of Art Jameel, described the exhibition as “presenting an innovative material reading of a substance so crucial in shaping local and regional histories and cultures.” The included works run the gamut from archival photographs to video to sculptural installations to found objects and reflect a diversity of artistic approaches to the cultural, political, and economic significance of oil in the region throughout the last six decades.
The earliest works in the show, documentary photographs by the Iraqi, Latif Al Ani, and paintings by the Iranian, Houshang Pezeshknia (Portrait d’homme, 1949, Fig. 3), highlight the role that the discovery of oil played in shaping the modern culture and identity of both countries. Al Ani’s photographs focus on the material benefits of the oil industry, featuring images of new, modernist housing developments and smiling children showing the bottles of milk now provided as part of the government school lunch program. Pezeshknia’s paintings are more introspective; their rough brushstrokes emphasize the harsh features of those who work on the pipelines and the scars left on the Iranian landscape by the new technologies of oil extraction.
Several artists in the exhibition drew on found images and archival film footage for their works. These include Raja’a Khalid, whose Desert Golf series (2014) uses vintage print media from American publications such as Life magazine to document the seemingly inexorable, if equally inexplicable, compulsion that expatriate oil executives had for finding ways to play golf in the hostile desert landscape. In several of these images, bewildered local residents look on, setting up an us/them dichotomy and pervasive sense of cultural difference that still marks expatriate and local relations in the Gulf region.
Sculptural installations featured prominently in the exhibition. For example, Monira Al Qadiri’s Flower Drill (2016, Fig. 4), displayed high on the wall in one of the galleries, features fiberglass forms based on the design of drill heads and coated in two-toned automotive paint, connecting the work to both the initial and final stages of oil production and consumption. Alessandro Balteo-Yazbek’s Last Oil Barrel is a tiny wooden sculpture of a barrel, whose price is linked to oil futures and whose value will be determined only at some unspecified date in the future when a sale is fixed, reflecting the connections between the commodity value of both art and oil. The artist identifies the date of the work as “postponed,” indicating that it remains in some way incomplete until that time.
Although Crude was an intellectually rigorous and aesthetically compelling first exhibition from the Jameel Arts Centre, it remains to be seen whether there will be a sufficient audience for this type of show in Dubai over the long term. While the center’s opening weekend saw packed galleries, a weekday in January found the author almost alone in the spaces. The question of representation and inclusion of Emirati artists will undoubtedly also be raised at some point in the center’s development.
A sculpture by the pioneering Emirati conceptualist artist Hassan Sharif (Fig. 5) was included in Crude and works by Emirati sculptors Shaikha Al-Mazrou and Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim were shown in the lobby and outside garden respectively. However, this is but a small sample of the variety of contemporary art being produced in the United Arab Emirates and local artists may, understandably, begin to call for greater visibility in this high-profile contemporary arts space. The Jaddaf Waterfront remains under construction and as yet there is not a sustained community to support the idea of the Jameel Arts Centre thriving as a local creative hub. That said, the potential for growth and development is there and the openness with which the center is positioning itself is welcome in a city where the arts scene can often feel closed and difficult to penetrate. Jameel Arts Centre is a welcome addition to the creative landscape of Dubai and will hopefully continue to develop as a space for contemporary expression.
posted by CAA — December 06, 2018
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Leonard Bell, professor of art history, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Exhibition and catalogue review: Gordon Walters: New Vision, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, 11 November 2017- 8 April 2018, and Auckland Art Gallery, 7 July – 4 November 2018.
The much-lauded work of Gordon Walters (1919-1995), one of New Zealand’s first geometric abstract painters, has also generated controversy. A retrospective show traveled the country in 1983, but the present exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of Walters’s complete oeuvre from the late 1930s until his last painting in 1995. A wonderful show, curated by Lucy Hammonds, Laurence Simmons, and Julia Waite, it clearly establishes Walters’s greatness as a painter. Walters’s art was informed and sustained by an extensive knowledge and sophisticated understanding of Euro-American—Piet Mondrian (principally), Sophie Tauber-Arp, Joseph Albers, Auguste Herbin and John McLaughlin, for instance—and Oceanic art, in particular the koru motif of Maori kowhaiwhai (painting, on rafters and paddles, for example) and moko (tattoo). Add to those his early, unusual-in-New Zealand interest in Surrealism and the idiosyncratic sketches of a mentally ill man, Rolf Hattaway. Walters learned about these from a close friend, émigré Dutch artist Theo Schoon, an ardent advocate of Bauhaus practices and Maori visual arts, especially “primitive” rock art.
The resultant body of work constitutes an imaginative and distinctive interweaving of elements from diverse societies and cultures. Formally and technically rigorous, visually refined, conceptually deep, Walters’s paintings are both still and tense. While pulling in different directions, his best known work, the so-called koru paintings, somehow betoken their place, a cluster of islands in the southwest Pacific. Their imprint extends far beyond the art world, to the New Zealand Film Commission’s logo, for instance. Yet, to present Walters’s art only in terms of these koru paintings would skew the overall picture and leave it incomplete. The exhibition rightly gives as much attention to his many other different paintings.
Since Walters’s breakthrough shows at Auckland’s New Vision Gallery in 1966 and 1968 (his first since an early exhibition in 1949), writings about his art have proliferated. His abstractions attracted the keen attention not only of New Zealand art historians, critics, and philosophers, but also the eminent British critic Robert Melville (Architectural Review, 1968), who regarded Walters’s paintings as the best he encountered in New Zealand, polymathic Ernst Gombrich (The Sense of Order, 1979), as well as Australian art historians Rex Butler and A. D. S. Donaldson, and American Thomas Crow (in the present catalogue). The handsome publication reproduces a rich feast of Walters’s works. Nine writers produced eight essays exploring various aspects of Walters’s art and career. Several essays (notably by Peter Brunt and the Australians) offer new details and connections between Walters and other artists.
The trajectory of his career, his primary inspirational sources, his paintings’s formal qualities and conceptual substance, though, have already been intensively excavated, especially by Michael Dunn in the 1970s and 1980s, and Francis Pound from the mid-1980s until his death in 2017.
In an exhibition review in Art News New Zealand (Summer, 2017), David Eggleton observed, “Curiously, Pound is an absent if also an insistent presence in the catalogue of the show. Although not included as a contributor, many of the ideas and notions first proposed by him appear in the text, subsumed into the writings of others.” And a festschrift in 1989 to mark his 70th birthday, Gordon Walters: Order and Intuition, edited by James Ross and Laurence Simmons, had ten scholarly essays, including (disclosure) my “Walters and Maori Art: the nature of the relationship?”
Transformation of his inspirational sources characterizes Walters’s art. His first investigations of the Maori koru motif, small studies in ink and gouache, appeared in the mid-1950s. They were close to the source; the motif’s organic quality was semi-retained.
In the mid-1960s Walters geometricized the form. Except for circular shapes terminating the crisply delineated bars, curves were straightened out. The reshaped element provided a means, in league with Mondrian et al, for studies in formal relationships using a “deliberately limited range of forms” (Walters, 1966).
These were not intended to draw on the Maori motif’s symbolic values, though Walters’s use of Maori terms for many titles was an acknowledgement of the inspirational importance of Maori art as he had experienced it.
From the mid-1980s, most forcefully in the 1990s, possibly triggered by critiques leveled at the Museum of Modern Art’s 1984-1985 exhibition, Primitivism: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, Walters was accused of exploitative appropriation of Maori art by several critics, both Maori and Pakeha (European New Zealander).
Others, including Maori and Pakeha artists, also defended Walters. The catalogue touches on this sometimes acrimonious argument, though the exhibition’s wall texts and captions bypass it. Deidre Brown’s catalogue essay, “Pitau, Primitivism and Provocation: Gordon Walters’ Appropriation of Maori Iconography,” steers a near-neutral path between the antagonists, culminating with the claim that they moved onto other concerns: “the appropriation debate faded away from academic art history.” Several reviewers, though, questioned whether the contentious issue was satisfactorily addressed by the show.
Most of Walters’s detractors and advocates assumed a straightforward relationship between his work and Maori art: cause = koru motif and effect = the forms in Walters’s koru paintings. The detractors appeared to subscribe to a Manichean structure of polarities in which modernist borrowings are, ipso facto, “bad.” In this system a single component in the works becomes the only or dominant one. If the same paintings are seen within wider cultural and historical contexts, though, an interplay of multiple elements and global connections, in which no single one is dominant, becomes manifest. A complex of factors also mediates how Walters’s koru paintings have functioned. Depending on the kinds of knowledge and cultural baggage individual viewers bring to the encounter, they are clearly perceived very differently. Indeed, one could well wonder whether viewers with opposing perspectives are talking about the same pictures. The diverse opinions resist resolution; the conflicting perspectives are incommensurable. Just as creationists are unlikely to accept a logical refutation of the existence of “God,” so Walters’s critics are not likely to see his art in any other way than their own.
Take another slant. In 1910 the New Zealand Herald reported a “curious discovery” by Mme Boeufvre, wife of New Zealand’s French consul. Seeing the Book of Kells (c. 800 CE) in Dublin, she “was much struck by the similarity of Celtic ornaments to Maori conventional designs…how very closely the Maori patterns resembled those of the ancient artists of Ireland.” Since the nineteenth century parallels were frequently drawn between curvilinearities in Maori artifacts and those in the art and ornament of other societies, including such varied cultures and aesthetics as Egyptian, Greek, South East Asian, Victorian, and Art Nouveau, in addition to Celtic. For instance, renowned Austrian art historian Alois Riegl (‘Neuseelandische Ornamentik’, 1891, and Stilfragen, 1896) matched Maori and Egyptian spiraling forms. He noted that they could not possibly have had the same origin. Like many other forms, that of the swastika, for example, the form of the Maori koru motif is found all over the world. There is no singular point of invention.
Universal and local collide in Walters’s painting. Was Walters indigenizing the modern or modernizing the indigenous—or both, or neither? Can we look through several lenses simultaneously? Compelling art certainly can emerge from socio-cultural dissonance—Walters’s paintings continue to energize the spaces they inhabit. They have a contemporary urgency, informing the work of contemporary artists of both Pakeha and Maori descent, such as Darren George and Chris Heaphy. (The latter worked with Walters in his last years.) For others tension between Maori and Euro-American aesthetics and practices remains. Walters’s painterly synthesis of Maori, Oceanic, European, and American elements and ideas was virtually unique among Pakeha artists in his time. He trod a solitary path. In retrospect, though, his oeuvre constitutes a crucial watershed, in which the possibilities of bicultural coexistence of things Maori and Pakeha were explored, celebrated and contested.