Specialized Master of Arts: Art History in a Global Context

Global Challenges

The rapid transformation of our societies and economies through the process of globalization has an impact on our scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The increasing worldwide exchange and mobility of people, goods, and information draws attention to the inter-relational dimension of art. And yet, the global entanglement of art is not only a phenomenon of the most recent art. Correspondingly, new methodologies and fields of expertise arise in art history, such as postcolonial and art geographical approaches. A global perspective underscores the need to address new questions in respect to past and contemporary art in order to revise the identity of art history and to ensure its relevance for the future. What is art history in a global context? What are the main issues and challenges of a globalized art history? How do global perspectives influence art historical practices and institutions, such as curating and conservation, museums and art markets? How can we operate beyond the traditional judgments of value, such as high and low, center and periphery? How can we integrate the diversity of related local aesthetic practices and discourses?

Artworks and Art Worlds

In the case of their cultural and historical remoteness, artistic objects can be hermeneutically challenging. They are integral part of specific “art worlds” or cultural contexts, which require suitable methods of analysis, such as art technology, economic history, or iconography. A global perspective onto art history involves fundamental issues of our discipline, such as the historical dimension of the notion of the Fine Arts, a concept arising in 18th-century Europe. Global or transcultural art history benefits from interdisciplinary exchanges with anthropology, ethnography, visual and material studies. Do we need new “critical terms for art history” (Robert S. Nelson/Richard Shiff), such as the “intercultural object” (Arjun Appadurai) or “agency” (Alfred Gell)? Studying non-western objects may help in re-thinking the parameters of western canon and lead, for instance, to the decolonization of Cubism. Not least, the digital humanities, mostly supported by western institutions, have a strong impact upon the canon of texts and works of art disseminated worldwide through networks and databases.

Alternative Narratives

Until the mid-20th century, in the West, the discipline of art history has often concurred with national historiographies. Far from signifying the “post-national” or “post-ideological”, global art discourse, especially in emerging countries, manifests new forms of political use and abuse. A global perspective probes traditional forms of knowledge production as well as its political, social, and economic framework and preconditions. This may entail alternative research and teaching methods, such as artistic research or oral history and alternative narratives for the history of art, both in form and content. A global art history assumes a multiplicity of (art) histories. It fosters the rethinking of Western temporal and territorial dimensions based on the style and territory, and to question, for instance, the opposition of “tradition” and “modernity” and analyze terms such as “translation”, “appropriation”, and “evolution”, but also the notion of the “global” itself. In this respect, the history of the discipline and the analysis of its terminology are crucial.

Places and Spaces

Locality and spaces in which people, artworks, and ideas interact, pose vital questions (Irit Rogoff). A global contextualization invites to consider the changing materiality as well as the shifting meaning of objects. This perspective allows focusing on phenomena of transmission, translation, circulation, and exchange and on the life of objects and their itineraries across time or space. It also underlines the importance of processes of de-territorialization, appropriation, and reparation. It examines the national, ethnic, and cultural identities of artists and artworks (Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann) and opens views onto the issues of hybridity or “in-betweenness” (Homi Bhabha).

Global Curating and the Function of the Museum

Since the exhibition "Les Magiciens de la terre" (Paris 1989), more attention has been given to cross-cultural curating. However, curating “global art”, especially at international Biennales, raises questions about the strategic market value of “otherness” and “glocality” and the ideological and political assumptions inherent in a universalistic “world art history”. In relation to the “exhibitionary complex” (Tony Bennett), it is important to analyze the mode of appearance of art and the way it is framed. Are there different display strategies and cultures for western and non-western art? Is the format of global exhibitions a universal form, or rather a genuinely western invention? The analysis of exhibitions will not only shed light on the global politics of institutions and their mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, but may also help in determining the notions of a global art system.