1 Modernisms: Curating art’s past in the global present

Simon Knell

I don’t think there are any borders when it comes to painting. I’ve always thought that. There are no frontiers. Just art.[1]

British artist, David Hockney, was in one sense correct when he claimed this. A recent retrospective of his work at Tate Britain demonstrated its transcendent, universal, humanistic, cosmopolitanism. However, the modern painter has a tendency to view his or her actions through the lens of disciplinary ideal and virtue. The social, political and economic circumstances of production are, from this perspective, excluded, diminished or considered inoperative. As in science, artistic practice has been imagined to stand apart from those interests that might subvert or corrupt it; it holds a belief that it can create and live within its own insulated world and by this means achieve universal value. It is, in many respects, a Canutian worldview and one that is rapidly fading. As we know from studying scientists – Baconian conceptions of science provided the paradigm for the universal discipline – escaping the influence of personal situation is impossible. It imposes itself subtly and implicitly.[2] What hope, then, for the artist or the canonical art historian? Hockney’s paintings are indisputably the product of his bordered situation; of delimited geographical, historical, climatic, social, sexual, familial, architectural and educational circumstance. Implicitly and tacitly, but also explicitly, his work speaks of a differentiated world; a world of borders and transgressions, and it does so not simply in its form, style or subject matter. His posthumous legacy will also be shaped by territories, as represented by the canonical ambitions of museums and the nation-state. That process has in fact already begun: Hockney is now referred to by that playful and slightly ironic British category, ‘national treasure’. 

While the painter is entitled to believe his work is ‘just art’, beyond the studio and particularly in the museum it is never simply that. It was this confrontation between the ‘just art’ perspectives of art historians and the overlooked but critical contexts of art’s production and consumption that gave birth to half a century of crises in that discipline after 1970. The subject of this essay concerns the most recent of these crises: how museums move from a restricted and chauvinistic internationalist view of the art of the twentieth century to embrace the global history of practice. This desire to expose the politics of the Western canon and its hegemonic authors, and replace it with a globalised understanding, has affected all areas of the arts. It is, however, rather better developed amongst literary scholars where it has spawned a new era of modernist studies.[3]

The concern here is not with contemporary art today, which has faced up to the global challenge with geographical egalitarianism, but with those canonical art histories central to the purpose of those canonical memory institutions, now to be found in almost every capital on Earth, the national galleries.[4]Notions of progress frame the art I am referring to in this chapter. This art was produced in systems where the authority, ideology or resonances of modernist art culture, the nation, the state or the empire shaped the materials, form, subject matter and trajectory of artistic creation. This mode of artistic production became increasingly challenged in the West from the 1960s onwards. In other parts of the world this only happened with the collapse or weakening of communist governments around 1990. In all these countries, it was followed by the ‘postmodern plurality’ of globalised contemporary art culture. Only in a few places, where authoritarianism remains, has this still not happened. 

This chapter, which uses as its primary materials museum practice, exhibitions and art writing, begins by discussing the problem and then asks whether modernism was, at that moment when it was contemporary, perceived as a geographically restricted phenomenon. How did this change as modern art was canonised and remembered, particularly in museums? What roles did location and the nation play in the conceptualisation and remembering of modernism? Was modernity a singular conception experienced universally or did it differ according to location? And finally, is there a case for privileging location or nation so as to improve the interpretation of artistic modernities and in so doing produce an enriched sense of engagement and creativity? Can such a viewpoint empower and diversify the art histories we show in museums?

The museum, the canon and the legitimate actor

Elizabeth Mansfield wrote, a decade ago: ‘For art history, its purview might be taken generally to be “art”, but in concrete, quantifiable terms it is the canon that defines its jurisdiction. In this way, the canon can be seen as the central organizing principle of the discipline itself.’[5] When this view was published, James Elkins had just completed a global survey of art historical practice. It revealed, rather alarmingly, that art historians were primarily engaged in repeatedly mining the same limited cast of artists and artworks.[6] This suggests that while much intentionality has been invested in the construction of the so-called international canon, that canon also forms simply and unthinkingly from the habits of the discipline itself. 

Art museums, which tend to resolve art history into a list of desirable objects and names, and which connect these things to their own success and survival, are central to this canonisation process because they materialise ideas in artworks and they disseminate aesthetic norms and curatorial practices that are then copied by other institutions. Providing the material resources for the practice of art history, institutionalised collections encourage this intellectual and cultural recycling for they implicitly suggest that the only art that has existed, or that is important, is that which they possess. The art historian, who is often preoccupied with the image rather than the real world of objects, can so easily fail to observe the authorial and editorial museology and institutionalism that prevents the museum from representing the ideal, comprehensive, truly cosmopolitan or neutral. The museum presents itself as having preserved a past reality, rather than as a filter acting to deny as much as to permit a memory of artistic practice. 

With its adherence to a conservative set of organising principles, its neutralising professionalism, its need to attract audiences, its precarious funding and its responsibilities to art history itself, the national art museum or gallery can trick us into believing that the art we view in its galleries is broadly representational; that it is something more than a staged performance.[7] A staged performance is, however, an inevitable consequence of the metamorphosis of the artwork from aesthetic practice to cultural anchor: institutionalisation and preservation are made possible but the art is no longer just art. Thus if museums are complicit in the construction of the universal canon, they are also responsible for its distortion and fragmentation.

The canon is then as much a result of institutionalised practice as it is of thought and, aided by the ambitions and limitations of the museum, it is by its very nature monumental, reductive and essentialist. This is not to suggest that museums are not also capable of producing sophisticated cultural histories of political actors, objects and institutions.[8] However, these tend to be restricted to temporary exhibitions where the analysis is confined to the catalogue while the exhibition itself is organised as a celebratory, hagiographic, heroic, taxonomic or sensational performance. Aided by centuries-old practices of curatorial elevation that have generated audiences resistant to highly interpreted art exhibitions, even in temporary shows the artwork begins its metamorphosis from ‘just art’ to canon. 

I should point out at this point, that in writing this, I am not being critical: the art gallery produces a performance to be enjoyed and essential to our appreciation of art. My point is that we should not receive this as an unmediated or evidential truth, or as something that does not produce consequences; the art museum is as much theatre as it is object library. Perhaps the most startling and frustrating of these consequences is to be witnessed when we travel beyond those museums in Western Europe and the USA that are keepers of that international canon repeatedly recycled and promoted in popular art histories. Only then do we find a completely different imagining and context for art: ‘in spite of cosmopolitanism, the history of modern art remains a sequence of largely national histories written in national languages by historians who view art as the embodiment of national values.’[9] For art lovers who believe the art books they purchase document all that is significant in modern art, physical travel is the only way to discover this other world – a world of artists of whom you have never heard.[10]

Indeed, if we tried to assemble a global picture of art making in the twentieth century our so-called great, internationalist or universal art institutions would be of little help. They would simply perpetuate a view that a Paris-centred art world had been the source of all originality. Implicitly they would reveal their contempt for, indifference to or ignorance of the modern artists of Africa, Asia and the Americas, as well as those of Scandinavia and Central and Eastern Europe, New Zealand and Australia, for these areas of the globe would remain largely unrepresented.[11] Art curators in these parts of the world have repeatedly complained of the chauvinist attitude of those nations empowered by this so-called international canon; of a ‘persistent sense that the artistic centre appears elsewhere’.[12] It has contributed a ubiquitous feeling of national inadequacy: ‘Only too common among us is the impulse to praise what is foreign and to deprecate what is national, and this regardless of quality’.[13] The result for some art museums has been to put the national story of art into store and concentrate instead on temporary international shows. While an increasing amount of work is being done by art historians and museums to redress the balance and return artists who were internationally active in their lives but subsequently forgotten, there are still many other countries where the nation’s art history exists only in unresolved form on the walls and in the storerooms of the museum.

This peculiar geography, which can be easily explained but not justified, has led art historians and museums to adopt a range of different, and sometimes conflicting, approaches to its solution. I shall come to these later in this chapter. It seems logical to begin, however, by asking if those who first began to detect the modern aesthetic also imagined it as a production solely of the West.

How international was modernism?

In the 1920s, the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) soon-to-be first director, Alfred Barr Jr., found himself swept up in the excitement of this emergent aesthetic. A decade later, he cast himself as its historian, famously capturing the evolution of modernist style in a highly influential diagram on the cover of the museum’s exhibition catalogue, Cubism and Abstract Art (1936). It is an image that seems to suggest that modernism possessed, from the very beginning, a limited geography of legitimate participation dominated by the French and which only offered to Japanese, African and ‘near Eastern’ actors contributions of indigenous arts. With time this perception would take concrete form. However, as Sybil Kantor has recently shown, Barr’s diagram did not express a holistic conceptualisation but rather the limitations he had imposed on this one particular exhibition and his own personal lines of enquiry.[14] He was keen to show that modernism was a transnational aesthetic phenomenon and so the exhibition (and accompanying diagram) took no interest in artistic developments that remained within nations and had no demonstrable international influence. He nevertheless recognised that many of these excluded artists were also important and perhaps that influence operated on a range of levels and through various media. American artists were absent only because the Whitney Museum had recently held a major exhibition of American abstraction.[15] In other circumstances, or if delineated from London, Paris, Berlin or Moscow, the diagram would have looked very different.[16] This was a view from New York in 1936 and a unique product of Barr’s experiences to date.

Barr had viewed the development of modernism in the 1920s as a living field of practice located for the most part in distant Europe. His correspondence with the president of the Société Anonyme, Katherine Dreier, reveals that his situation on the east coast of the United States disadvantaged him when it came to determining the relative merits of Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse, Léger and even Monet.[17] If Dreier was a little more informed about some of these artists, she nevertheless possessed her own particular tastes and philosophies: she elevated Léger, for example, and prematurely disregarded Picasso as a ‘middle-aged gentleman who started life full of enthusiasm…[who has] settled down to retirement as far as the world of art goes today.’[18] A New Yorker, born to socially progressive German immigrant parents, who built a long-term relationship with Marcel Duchamp though without sharing his more playful ideas, she became an evangelist for the new art and for a museum of modern art, long before the invention of MoMA.

The geography of modernism, as it was imagined in those formative years, and indeed, how Dreier and Barr was each affected by their different situation, relationships, mobility, outlook and ambitions, is demonstrated by the exhibitions they produced. Particularly informative is Dreier’s ‘unprecedented’ International Exhibition of Modern Art (1926-7) at the Brooklyn Museum, from which parts travelled to the Anderson Galleries in New York, the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo and the Art Gallery of Toronto.[19] Perhaps predisposed by her Central European heritage, as she travelled across Europe in search of contemporary art for the show she ‘would not be restricted to the work of a few well-established artists working in the world’s great art centers, but would include the work of lesser-known artists “living in the wilds of Russia and Rumania” as well.’[20] Her goal was not to define an emergent canon, but ‘to provide a sense of the depth and breadth of the modern movement as it existed worldwide in the 1920s.’[21] Showing 308 artworks by 106 artists from 23 countries, mixing the established and the obscure, the exhibition was remarkable for its geographical inclusivity. And while the arrangement of the exhibition was internationalist – works were hung without any regard to national origins – the exhibition’s checklist and marketing nevertheless demonstrated that the nation was critical to articulating this internationalism. 

The younger Alfred Barr’s vicarious understanding of modern art and design was transformed in 1927-8, a year he spent meeting the leaders of European modernism, visiting the Bauhaus in Dessau and immersing himself in Moscow in the era of the post-revolutionary avant-garde. In Russia, particularly, he acquired an almost ethnographic understanding of a contemporary art scene alive with communist ideology, engaged in battles between representation and abstraction, and between the established arts and the new populist media of film and photography. 

Back in America, with a desire to represent what he had experienced, Barr often lacked access to key works and at MoMA, lacked staff, money, the support of trustees and some critical management abilities. Perhaps valuing his own expertise and tastes above those of others, or at least understanding that the field was one of negotiation and opinion rather than authority, he admitted to not keeping pace, or heeding, or noticing, others writing on modern art. Like Dreier, Barr’s conception and performance of modernism was philosophically and ideologically situated and unperfected. They both sought to represent what they thought of as a transcendent universal phenomenon but each did so through a lens of their own making. Unlike later writers who were wedded to notions of high culture, Barr was happy to abandon the old hierarchies that separated painting and sculpture from industrial and commercial art, photography and architecture. Similarly, Dreier cast herself as a didactic populariser who saw moral virtue and social progress in art. If their geographies of modernism never reached beyond Europe it was simply a matter of practicality. Aside from Dreier’s pursuit of the artists of the European wilds, her selection of Japanese-American Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s Strong Woman with Child (1925), which was seen as having an inherent Japanese aspect, signalled her unbounded global inclusivity. 

What role did the nation play in this internationalist vision?

Barr’s depiction of an evolving art movement drew upon an analytical method he had learned from his Princeton tutor: ‘From [Charles Rufus] Morey’s approach to medievalism, Barr received the grounding for his interest in the proliferation of modernism both within a specific country and throughout the West. This inclusiveness implicitly positioned him in the camp of aestheticians who claim that the forces of the Zeitgeisthave a synergistic effect on changes in style.’[22]  

This philosophical view of art was pervasive. It excused art historians, critics, popularisers and artists, including Dreier, Kandinsky, Roger Fry and Clive Bell, from considering contexts of production. As doyen of the English art establishment, Herbert Read, put it, ‘the modern movement in art has nothing whatsoever to do with sentiments external to its nature’.[23] Mark Cheetham has recently explored views on the place of the nation in art writing by Read and his contemporaries suggesting that the field sought an ethical engagement not unlike that of science: ‘the philosophical notion of disinterestedness in place since the early eighteenth century urges us to abjure the specifics of place, gender, race and nation in a gesture towards transcendence.’[24] Arguments were thus to be conducted within the artworks themselves. This view persisted, Clement Greenberg expressing it in 1960: ‘visual art should confine itself to what is given in visual experience and make no reference to any other orders of experience.’[25] Harrison and Wood have observed that ‘For the critic in the Modernist tradition the measure of art lies not in the vividness with which it represents the experience of modern life, but rather in its achievement, under the contingent conditions of the modern, of a level of quality for which previous art furnishes the only meaningful standard.’[26]

Cheetham questions the reality of this detached aesthetic viewpoint. Read, for example, looking at contemporary artworks, asked, ‘can we say they possess a common quality – something that is distinctively English?…I do not think so. One must realize that art is now essentially international.’[27] Nevertheless, in his little book, British Contemporary Art (1951), he saw the international as affecting an essentially national core of tradition: he saw the cosmopolitan influence of, for example, African or Mexican sculpture, as being ‘like injections of a drug’ which ‘shocks’ but which ‘should not persist as a habit or fashion.’ For all the internationalist rhetoric, art was implicitly located, even if Read’s arguments remained locked within the aesthetic realm. Read again: ‘Art cannot be confined within frontiers – it lives only if continually subjected to foreign invasions, to migrations and transplantations. But if art’s vitality comes from the cross-breeding of styles, its strength comes from stability, from roots that grow deep into a native soil.’[28] It is an observation that resonates with arguments for global modernisms to be discussed later.

Harold Rosenberg, famously writing in 1940 after the Nazi occupation of Paris, saw modern art as possessing an anti-nationalist rhetoric that gave its internationalism even more potency. He saw Paris as an international city possessing a diverse, non-Parisian, population. ‘What was done in Paris demonstrated clearly and for all time that such a thing as international culture could exist. Moreover, that this culture had a definite style: the Modern.’ He saw modernism as an escape from the oppressive realities of contemporary national politics: 

Any more than its ‘Internationalism’ meant the act of getting together of the peoples of different countries. It was an inverted mental image, this Modern… A dream living-in-the-present and a dream of world citizenship – resting not upon a real sense of triumph, but upon a willingness to go as far as was necessary into nothingness in order to shake off what was dead in the real. A negation of the negative.[29]

What is striking about Rosenberg’s reading of internationalism is the manner in which it has metamorphosed from the situated idealism of the 1920s, whether in Moscow or New York, both of which conceived the purpose and utility of ‘international modernism’ differently, to an apocalyptic Paris where internationalism’s geographical detachment could itself be perceived as representing a political ideal. What sat behind this moralising ideal, however, were real, socialised, located and contested art worlds debating anti-bourgeoisie socialism, Marxism, Trotskyism, realism, idealism, nationalist isolationism, internationalism, and so on.[30] The situated world within which art’s critical discourse took place was for art a very real and influential backcloth the critic, art historian and curator would so often act to mute, naively supposing that professional silence itself ensures the moral goal of disinterestedness. What underpins Rosenberg’s internationalist dream is a very specific situation, early twentieth-century Paris, which he claimed had a profound effect on the mind and on artistic practice. His internationalism was a located experience.

It should be noted at this point that not everyone subscribed to this view. John Rothenstein, the Tate Gallery’s mid-twentieth century director, a man simultaneously successful and controversial, saw and valued the effects on art of personality, fashion, economics, aesthetics, social change, patronage, and psychological and archaeological discovery.[31] His appreciation was deeply contextual and he denied that the artwork was a transcendent representation of the Zeitgeist or that it could be understood through formal enquiry alone. 

Writing at the beginning of the 1960s, just as Greenberg and Read were consolidating the modernist achievement, Raymond Williams observed the operation of culture, including the premise upon which art historians had based their disciplinary hopes: ‘An essential hypothesis in the development of the idea of culture is that the art of a period is closely and necessarily related to the generally prevalent ‘way of life’, and further that, in consequence, aesthetic, moral and social judgements are closely interrelated.’[32] He argued that culture was simultaneously three things: timeless ideal, documentary record and social space.[33] The majority of art historians had perhaps placed their efforts on connecting the first two, viewing the last of them only through blinkered eyes, and thus failing to consider the influence of institution, gender, race or geography. Only in the last quarter of the twentieth century were these black boxes finally opened. 

Williams went on to discuss the transformation of culture into memory, from lived culture, to recorded culture and finally through reductive actions to selective tradition.[34] As agents of memory construction, museums and art historians had set about developing a canonical hagiography of modernist achievement as soon as its first stylistic movements began to fade. It is to this act of remembering that I now want to turn.

How was modernism changed by acts of remembering?

All historical epochs are modern to themselves, but not all live their experience in this ideological mode. If modernism lives its history as peculiarly, insistently present, it also experiences a sense that this present moment is somehow of the future, to which the present is nothing more than an orientation; so that the idea of Now, of the present as full presence eclipsing the past, is itself intermittently eclipsed by an awareness of the present as deferment, as an empty excited openness to a future which is in one sense already here, in another sense yet to come.[35]

The unfolding development of modernism was accompanied simultaneously by the construction of a memory of its past performances. Progress required historical reflection as much as it needed futurist projection. Dreier’s exhibition of contemporary artists, for example, was criticised by some in New York for being retrograde, the critics believing that abstraction had had its day and that art had in recent years returned to figuration. In part a product of wishful thinking, it nevertheless shows that the reception of modernism was always situated in a local imagining of past–future. In Toronto, the exhibition found a warmer welcome and not simply because the city was delighted to be the venue for a show of such extraordinary international dimensions. Here attitudes had been softened by the modernist landscapes of the locally-based Group of Seven, designers-cum-artists who had been championed by the National Gallery of Canada as the country’s first original art movement. Rather ironically, however, members of that group, one of whom had aided Dreier in bringing the show to Toronto, were critical of its modernist excesses and its lack of curatorial cohesion.[36] These criticisms served to emphasise their own artistic unity and their separation from the controversy of European post-impressionism. The exhibition revealed that New York and Toronto were quite different locations to reflect on modernism past and imagine its future. 

For Barr, of course, the developmental aspect of art was central. His Cubism and Abstract Art had been a retrospective; it was historical. With the passing of time, so the directional linkages Barr had drawn on the cover of the catalogue became conduits of influence that narrowed and directed the flow of thought. It helped shape Herbert Read’s highly influential and partisan A Concise History of Modern Painting (1959) with its chosen actors and its groups of discarded bystanders, condemned for being naive, realist or political. Accepting the published records of MoMA as authoritative, he excluded both the Mexican muralists and Canada’s Group of Seven.[37] In his slightly earlier Modern English Painters, Rothenstein observed what he saw as Read’s unjustified contempt for figurative art: ‘Mr Read’s pages…convey the impression that there is an inherent superiority in revolutionary art and that representational art is a curious survival, condemned by its very nature to sterility’. Admitting to difficulties in the appreciation of abstraction, and yet a highly informed and subtle interpreter of the predominantly representational output of the English moderns, he argued that to elevate Hans Arp above Stanley Spencer was to take ‘inadequate account of the evidence of one’s eyes.’[38] He was, however, extolling the merits of artists who would remain forever English, only finding long-term international recognition in the British Dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Read’s artists, by comparison, now composed the international canon, though many were in their lives no more or less nationally situated than the artists that concerned his critic.

Other internationalist museums would follow MoMA’s lead, together developing a collecting culture where the collecting of one institution influenced the perceptions and actions of the others and in some measure manifesting the canonical history of modern art given by Read.[39] Through a physical performance of this kind, and the institutional cycling of art world arguments, criticism, history writing, marketing, careers, collecting, fraternalism, rivalry and so on, these lines of development became concrete and self-confirming.[40] Such cycling translated ideas into firm and communicable object-meaning relationships and thus into the restricted international canon. Artists and artworks now existed in causal relationships connected by narratives of progressive development and immortalised in the eternal museum. To mention Paul Cézanne was to begin the reciting of a particular psalm; a moment of revelation. This is what the museum and the art historian combine to achieve: modernism not as a memory or a history of practice but as a theological understanding, system of belief and parable. Acting as advocates, each with their reputations wedded to the modernist project, critics and other authors contributed what Danto called ‘covert manifestos’.[41] The artist’s life and artworks would be ruthlessly edited so as to produce an essential and causal story of innovation and interconnection. As Greenberg wrote, a distinguishing feature of modernism was self-criticism: ‘not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.’[42] This was not difficult to achieve as through its institutions and its cyclical processes art history had demonstrated a considerable capacity to simultaneously construct ways to believe and things in which to believe. The reality of a life was so easily turned into heroic myth because ultimately it was the myth and not the life that was wanted. Rothenstein saw this in what had been written about Paul Nash since his death, an English artist whom he had known: ‘Yet already touches are added, year by year, to a portrait of the artist which portrays him as more certain of his way, more sustained and logical in his growth, than the facts would seem to suggest.’[43]

A large number of artists who achieved international visibility during their lifetimes failed to enter this restricted and self-affirming international canon. Even those who were included did so in edited form with only a short segment of their careers considered significant. Those excluded were preferentially acquired by museums seeking to express national – rather than international – achievements in modern art. Here national isolation was used as a curatorial device to argue for the distinctive achievements of these artists.[44] In this way, as memory institutions, art museums acted like sieves, separating the national and the international. The preserved institutional memory is thus not one of the Zeitgeist of a multitude of contemporary actors circulating within an unfolding international art world,[45] but of a neatly separated and entirely abstract taxonomy of national and international artistic species. This museum act of separation has been aided by historians of national art who re-orient the lens of looking away from the international and towards the national, locating in the artworks profound connections to politics, culture, geography, the state and national achievement.[46] It is here that what might be classified as ‘national art’ is constructed. The emphasis of this construction is on the conditions of production and reception exterior to the artwork itself. It is a practice that is aided by the internationalists who ignore these artists out of a fear that exposure to the chaotic truth of global practice would disrupt, undermine or render incomprehensible the neat and believable, yet highly edited, story that is international modernism. National art, as used here, makes no allusions to significant stylistic developments or a national style – something widely rejected by art historians – but it does claim that the context of production shapes what is produced.[47] I will return to this a little latter in this chapter.

Doubting the museum’s memory

As institutionalised objects, both international and national artists and artworks have then fallen prey to institutionalism itself.[48] Museum survival depends upon the canonisation and promotion of collections. Curating sacred, aesthetic and conservative performances to appeal to middle class sensibilities, and having at their command artworks that become normalised and neutered through familiarity and the loss of living artists and contexts, museums bring about a metamorphosis that causes the original artwork to fade psychologically as it is remade as an institutional object.[49] In spite of this, museum professionals and art historians contend that these artworks possess meanings that are eternal and that were forged at the moment of creation and not by institutional practices.[50] Thus the memory of modernism in the museum retains its attachment to the Zeitgeist hypothesis but in doing so it attaches itself to an entirely different past Zeitgeist, one that is considered, constructed, mythological and projected, and quite different from that that was lived and that was largely unfathomable. 

Beyond the museum’s walls, critical art historians have contested this canonical memory. They doubted the possibility of true autonomy and questioned the dominance and control of individuals operating within cultures of collective reception and influence. They recognised that the discipline could not maintain a purist detachment from a world of state ideologies and propaganda, the marketplace, or implicit discrimination based on race, class and gender.[51] Writing in 1994, art historian Keith Moxey criticised his discipline’s failure to observe the effects of implicit theory and methodological process: art history needed no theory, it was believed, because ‘all practitioners share the same point of view. As a consequence, it is possible for the discipline to operate on the basis of a hidden agenda that is difficult to challenge because it is not supposed to exist.’[52]

Donald Preziosi, writing at the peak of the discipline’s self-reflective deconstruction, laid part of the blame on the museum

whose overall function has been to fabricate a historical past that could be placed under systematic observation for use in the present…Art history was closely allied with (indeed has been ancillary to) museology in this fixing-in-place of individual objects within the ideal horizons of a (potentially universal) history of artistic form – with the assignment, in short, of a locus or ‘address’ to the work within a finely calibrated system of chronological or geographic relationships of causality and influence.[53]

Preziosi saw his discipline’s attempts to reinvent itself through liberal deployments of Marxism, feminism and deconstruction as being essentially ‘cut from the same cloth’;[54] ‘modern art history could be said to have the status of an Ames Room or a Foucaldian heterotopia: an illusory unity and coherence; an ideological matrix of projections from disparate sources onto a common screen.’[55] He suggested ‘forgetting art history: thinking it otherwise, so as to recollect it more completely’![56]

This debate flowed around the canonical museum without greatly affecting it, only to locate a deep well of interest among contemporary artists and the new museums, galleries and other exhibition spaces that fostered the emergence of art situated in the global contemporary. Contemporary art re-imagined internationalism and the nation: globally-located practice replaced international style; space was understood as geographically neutral, as non-hierarchically global.[57] The contemporary artist was a global participant but was nevertheless situated in a specific local context.Postmodern, unmediated, multimedia, non-hierarchical, inclusive, distributed, ephemeral, performative; implicitly post-1980s art exposed and discredited the narrow memory of international modernism – a memory which seemed increasingly unsuited to this era of global equality.

Multiple modernities 

Reflecting on the diverse patterns of modernisation that had taken place in the twentieth century, in 2000, sociologist S. N. Eisenstadt proposed the highly influential and politically disruptive concept of ‘multiple modernities’; he was not, however, the first to pluralise this term. This undermined an old assumption: ‘modernity and Westernization are not identical; Western patterns of modernity are not the only “authentic” modernities, though they enjoy historical precedence and continue to be a basic reference point for others.’[58]

Cultural anthropologists and art historians concerned with the work of Indigenous artists saw this as an opportunity to at last escape the oppressive power and causal logic of international modernism which even then seemed to retain its Greenbergian characteristics. Ian McLean, an Australian art specialist, felt liberated:

Now it increasingly seems that modernism was always global, multiple and divided, rather than Western and singularly formalist…Far from being ‘homogenic and hegemonic’, as it was conventionally thought, ‘from its beginnings’, wrote Eisenstadt, modernity was ‘beset by internal antinomies and structural contradictions’.[59]

Ruth Phillips believed ‘Indigenous modernisms’ were now possible: 

Rigorous work on twentieth-century world arts is revealing modernism to be a much richer and more chameleon-like phenomenon than we had realized, capable of endless permutations, repeatedly reinvented and renewed in the encounter with local traditions and conditions of production.[60]

This notion implicitly argues that cultural modernities and aesthetic modernisms form around situation or ‘situatedness’; that a useful notion is to imagine situated modernities and situated modernisms. It means that modernism can be considered plural – as modernisms – which manifest themselves differently wherever they occur. I will return to these ideas later.

The very notion of Indigenous modernisms explicitly supported a view that had been adopted by anthropologists in the 1980s, that Indigenous culture should not be viewed as static or simply historical. Art history’s invisible theories and processes (and not least its ability to discriminate on grounds of ethnicity and location), of which Moxey complained, had, for example, revealed themselves when formalist art historians, critics and gallerists encountered the modern and contemporary Indigenous art cultures that emerged from the Australian desert in the 1970s.[61] Professionals struggled to recognise the teleological and ethical problems of viewing this world entirely through the lens of art historical detachment.[62]

Monolithic conceptions of modernism were altered in other ways too. Firstly, Indigenous actors situated in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, whose styles, motifs and subjects had been appropriated by or influential on early Western modernists, were increasingly repositioned as themselves being artists influencing the West.[63] Indeed, as Conal McCarthy has shown, Indigenous practitioners were recognised as artists in their own right in some contexts as early as the nineteenth century.[64] Secondly, and similarly, minorities situated in the West but whose work had been ignored because of racial and cultural discrimination, gained recognition as actors producing their own modern developments. Examples include the rise of Black modernism in Harlem and, more generally, the recent elevation of Latino art across the United States.[65] This egalitarian reading of cultural production became particularly important in developing countries where the building of national art galleries is a fairly recent development.[66] In these countries, an acknowledgement of the influence of ethnicity has been a precondition for understanding modern artistic development. 

A consequence of Eisenstadt’s theory is the suggestion that modernities evolve and change, and fall into crisis, collapse and get replaced. Indeed, he suggested that this notion should be critical to their study: ‘The idea of multiple modernities presumes that the best way to understand the contemporary world – indeed to explain the history of modernity – is to see it as a story of continual constitution and reconstitution of a multiplicity of cultural programs.’[67] It also meant that authoritarian regimes, like the Soviet Union, could be seen not as anti-modern but as offering a quite particular vision of modernity built upon collective agency.[68] ‘The cultural program of modernity…carried a conception of the future characterized by a number of possibilities realizable through autonomous human agency…Central to the modern idea was the breakdown of all traditional legitimations’.[69] In the period of the post-revolutionary Russian avant-garde, artists expressed their autonomy but also their allegiance to the legitimisations of communism, combined action and utilitarianism, and against the bourgeois aestheticism that was elsewhere central to modernism’s proliferation. Barr would doubtless know contemporary Russian art from the numerous exhibitions on show in New York in the 1920s;[70] only in Moscow, however, did he understand how deeply this art was attached to the political ideology of the new socialist state. He nevertheless managed to accommodate these peculiarly situated artworks within the scope of international modernism.[71] At the time, the autonomy of the artist was not in doubt but it would soon change. Indeed, while autonomy was deemed central to modernism, Eisenstadt acknowledged that even Western modernity brought both liberalised personal independence and counter actions of regulation and routine. 

Only in the early 1930s did the full force of Stalinist repression constrain, direct and censor the artist. Sensing an abhorrent cultural trend – a backward Russian state sanctioning kitsch (popular culture) in order to indoctrinate the peasant masses – Greenberg launched a defence of ‘advanced’ Western modernism in 1934. This was long before MoMA’s politically motivated touring exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism, which were promoted as statements of freedom, but which were also representations of a capitalist elite – Greenberg’s ‘umbilical cord of gold’[72] – that shaped the covert and overt manifestos of New York art culture. When Barr was sketching his evolutionary diagram of abstraction around this time, Meyer Schapiro was arguing that even abstract artists were constrained and grounded by their own situations.[73] Autonomous action (freedom) was merely an illusion; new modernities were no less inclined to create new dogmas. These were inescapable facets of the human condition, of the need to construct place and identity, whether in the liberal art capital or inward-looking nation. Cosmopolitan internationalism was no less restricted and located, and no less capable of being national or politically blinkered.[74]

If Dreier and Barr had been disinclined to put geographical limits on modernism, intellectual and cultural consolidation later in the century, together with the effects of the Cold War, increasingly seemed to position modernism as primarily occurring in the culturally hegemonic democratic countries of the West. Eisenstadt’s reimagining of the modern project, however, argued that this was just one geographically located rendition.

World art history and global modernisms 

A number of strategies have been adopted to move to a more global understanding of modernism. Elkins, for example, has listed critiquing modernist narratives and acknowledging their Western authorship; placing the fine arts in a broader field of visual cultural studies and replacing art historical aesthetics with socio-economic analyses; mapping the circulation of art between cultures and locating inclusive evolutionary narratives; the adoption of a phenomenological approach to human experience of the world; and denial of the commensurate nature of culture and mutually understood conceptions of time and space.[75] Of particular interest here is the tension that has developed in these debates between the global on the one hand and national, local and indigenous on the other. 

One group has seen the problem globally and has sought to realise a world art history as a singular, inclusive, but difficult, project, which builds upon Western internationalism.[76] This group has rejected the nation in favour of understanding the transcultural movement of objects and ideas: ‘The concept of national artistic identity seems increasingly unsatisfactory as notions of cultural mixing, decentering, and interchange have become prevalent.’[77] I have already observed that these complications do not undermine the idea of something that might be understood as national art and, indeed, the constant dialogue that has always existed in art between place (the nationally-situated artist) and cosmopolitanism. The ambition of these researchers is not simply to document relationships in global practice but to realise a planetary understanding that in some measure emulates the ambitions of science: 

Why then should the Humanities, and more specifically art history, which is supposedly also concerned with the material world, with products of human beings, with cultural manifestations and productions, not also make similar efforts at attaining an all-encompassing view, that would take in the world as a whole?[78]

While such a project could certainly map the interconnectivity of aesthetic developments globally, it necessarily begins and ends with a view that elevates the established Western hegemony as architects of modernism in all its forms. There is also the danger here of repeating those errors of theoretical extension that have affected scientists and ethnographers wishing to see evolutionary relationships in things that developed in discrete systems. Aliya Abykayeva-Tiesenhausen, in her pioneering study of Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek modernism, recently discussed the politics of outsider/insider authorship of peripheral art histories, and warned that ‘we are witnessing a reintroduction of imperialist structures (both by Russia in particular and the West in general) in a mutated form’.[79] For Indian art historian, Parul Dave-Mukherji, ‘the very concept of a single world art history in today’s age seems anachronistic and sounds totalitarian.’[80]

A number of researchers, who privilege local and national experiences of modernity and who search for nuanced and pluralistic readings of modernism, have offered a counterview. Detecting what have been termed ‘global modernisms’, these writers generally come from nations excluded from the international canon.[81] Without abandoning core art historical principles, they are nevertheless attuned to national, cultural and local difference; ‘that the artworks under scrutiny – contemporary or historical – cannot adequately be understood in isolation from the societies in which they were produced.’[82] Seen through this lens, global artistic production is not, a priori, positioned as part of unified international practice. While the arguments for global modernisms retain the conventional art historical lens of avant-garde modernism, the nation – as a meaningful cultural and political location – has become a critical frame for understanding innovations in artistic practice and the development of art historical narratives. International influence has not been omitted from these perspectives for the cosmopolitan city, which was often a product of colonialism, is at the heart of this nation-centred art geography: the ‘most open, artist-dense cities, where internationalism, long considered “the main merit and sign of modernism”, flourished.’[83]

Partha Mitter, a historian of Indian art and proponent of this approach, has argued that the alignment of ‘Western norms with global values’ had ‘the unintended consequence of excluding the art of the periphery.’[84] He has, however, met criticism from some Western art historians who, rather than break modernism into rich and varied contexts and performances, wished to hold onto the universal notion, arguing that in this form its hegemonic discourses and imperialist connections can be laid bare.[85] In his defence, Mitter argued that an articulation of the geography of participation is critical: 

To my mind, multiple local possibilities illuminate the global processes of modernity more effectively than a grand globalizing narrative…This inflected narrative of global modernity, I would argue, clearly yields another possible way of restoring the artist’s agency in the context of colonial empires, and this is by analysing art practices and reception as a cultural document that is historically situated.[86]

The notion of centre and periphery has been promoted by several Western authors who imagine world or global modernism (singular) as aesthetic influence in the arts spreading out from Western Europe and the USA.[87] Mitter uses the term in this sense but as a criticism of rhetoric and discourse that peripheralises.  Global modernisms (plural) re-centre discourse on the subject nation – on place and culture – permitting acts of appropriation, translation and hybridisation to be viewed from within rather than from a distance. Through this reversed lens an overlooked art capital, like Ulaanbaatar, is thrown into focus, turning Western capitals, like Paris, into distant and vague bokeh. From this perspective global networks look different. They no longer stretch out from former imperial capitals in Europe but from the situation of nascent, emergent and actual nations.[88] Rather than seeing the Mongolian modernist as some kind of distant or peripheral participant in Western modernism attached to Barr’s diagram by a long, tenuous, arrow, we instead understand this artist as uniquely placed and viewing modernity through the lens of their own cultural experiences and location. Whatever they produce, they are situated at the centre and never the periphery.

While global modernisms offer a more ethical foundation for the study of the history of art practice globally, they can still struggle to escape Western conceptions of modernism. They feel, perhaps, that they wish to join this hegemonic conception on their own terms, rather than contest its formulation by asking, for example, ‘what counts as modernism when one starts looking for examples from across the globe?’[89] Literature scholars have been more willing to ask this question. Sanja Bahun, for example, examining the Balkan situation, has argued against a developmental view of modernism: she suggests that scholars need ‘a more flexible conceptual template…that is constantly redefined by the very object of its inquiry’. She argues that 

The simultaneous occurrence of bidirectional processes, alteration, intermittence, inertia, or regressive movement, the compound nature of historical processes, as disclosed in the ‘anti-modernist strategies’ of Balkan modernisms, all have to be taken into account if we wish to assess global modernisms; or, indeed, if we wish to refine our understanding of canonical modernism.[90]

Art historians and art museums cannot stand apart from this fundamental rethinking: the global turn does not simply extend the canon, it subjects the parameters of the canon to redefinition and calls for a reconnection to processes of modernisation and notions of modernity. 

Situated modernisms

Repeatedly in these arguments a political tension between universalism (internationalism, cosmopolitanism) and situation (place, nation, city, the artist) is revealed. Both positions offer ethical justification. Recently, however, cultural geographers concerned with globalisation have exposed the falsity of this dichotomy. John Urry, for example, has argued that the local and global are ‘inextricably and irreversibly bound together’.[91]Ulrich Beck has argued that ‘Globalization is about localisation as well. You cannot even think about globalization without referring to specific locations and places.’[92] He warns Western authors, who might suppose that globalisation necessarily leads to an egalitarian view, that global arguments are also a means of empowering an existing hegemony: ‘keeping in mind global inequalities, “interconnectedness” is a semantic euphemism.’[93] This lesson that even international modernism was simultaneously cosmopolitan and located was, as I have shown, present in arguments throughout the twentieth century. Cosmopolitanism was promoted to the exclusion of place or nation because it gave art its transcendent power. It gave art and the art world significance. But cosmopolitanism was always a situated, always a located, experience. Nowhere was it ever truly cosmopolitan.

One of the challenges for cosmopolitan academics has been to look at the nation as something other than a product of nationalism with its consequent monocultural, isolationist and xenophobic tendencies. The nation is, of course, equally a place within which tolerance, multiculturalism and inclusivity have been developed. Indeed, such things rarely succeed without national policy and political commitment. The nation, in the form of the autonomous nation-state, has a profound effect on cultural production and consumption (museums, education systems, cultural programmes, the press, art commerce, artists unions, etc.).[94] Encompassing those cosmopolitan cities where art cultures develop, the nation is a logical organisational unit for a reappraisal of the geography of art and a true reflection of the global situation today where – in most countries – national galleries invent, negotiate and preserve national art histories. The nation being discussed here is not simply a philosophical or political ideal – an ‘imagined community’ – but a real and pragmatically understood administrative cultural place. 

Standing in front of a Mongolian modernist painting in its inexpensive frame in the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery in Ulaanbaatar, where it is arranged with other Mongolian works, our primary lens for understanding it should never be one manufactured in the heroic histories that emanate from New York, London or Paris. Surely an understanding begins with a consideration of the peculiar situation of the artist in Mongolia? Giving attention to the nation is not to deny the artist’s individual situation, or the importance of subnational regionalism or artistic communities, nor is it to suggest that the artistic act is resolved into a national style or overt nationalistic representation. It is an observation that the cultural and institutionalised context of the nation impacts upon the art; that two apparently identical works produced by two different artists situated in two different locations are not in actuality identical. The problem being discussed here, however, is not one of practice per se but of the institutionalisation and representation of that practice.  

While the term ‘global modernisms’ has found some traction, and reflects its origins in the global turn in criticism, many who have used it have questioned its appropriateness. In some respects it perpetuates an overriding concern with global congruence, when studies like those of Bahun and Phillips act to elevate place at the expense of homogenising, reductive or constraining universalism. Studying the global performances of national art galleries leads to an even greater sense that the performance of art is best understood from a situated perspective, and indeed, that ‘situated modernisms’ might be a better term for fragmenting and enriching the ‘modern’ concept. Implicit in this notion is the idea that situation is both located and cosmopolitan; that artistic practice is hybrid or bricolage, rather than – as globalist views tend to imply – merely or largely derivative. (It should be observed that this language is avoided in discussions of legitimised actors in the Western canon where relationships are developmental and microscopically teased apart, and where a stylistic movement can be viewed as detached and logical rather than authored and owned). To help explain this situated approach, I want to stay with the production and consumption of paintings ‘in the Western tradition’ in twentieth-century Mongolia, a country known particularly for its isolation from the West during much of that period.

Located between Russia and China, Mongolia’s episodic cultural history has been shaped by imposition, fragmentation, resistance, revolution and rebirth. Modernisation here has never been a linear process. A country of traditional nomadic pastoralism and countless Buddhist monasteries, possessing a rich pre-twentieth century art history, at the beginning of that century the capital, Ulaanbaatar (or Urga, as it was known before 1924), was essentially a city of tents (gers) with a third of its small population made up of monks.[95] It was into this world that the Russians brought their own model of modernity following Mongolia’s socialist revolution of 1921. This model would, however, rapidly change: a decade later it had morphed into Stalinist totalitarianism, purges, genocide and iconoclasm.[96] This was in a country that was never accessioned into the Soviet Union. Into this extraordinary context, Russia introduced Western media and styles of painting as part of its modernisation programme, sending prospective Mongolian artists to train in Moscow and cities in Eastern Europe. In 1942, the Union of Mongolian Artists (UMA) was established to direct the production of socialist realist works.[97]

As in other parts of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, and in Russia herself, the imposed socialist modernity was not monolithic; here, too, it was possible to see ‘constitution and reconstitution’. If Stalin had authored the most austere rendition of modernity, his death in 1953 brought a liberalising trend which in Mongolia led to the appearance of the first modernist paintings in the early 1960s and the rise in popularity of the Mongol zurag, a distinctive style of painting originally derived from the Tibetan Buddhist thangka.[98]

Thus far, this attempt to create a peculiar Mongolian situation has not moved beyond Mitter’s call for modernism to be understood through the lens of situated historicism. However, an understanding of situation demands extraction from art history and from the art world system (which are themselves aspects of situation) so as to sense the anthropological strangeness and uniqueness of art’s institutions, actors, objects and performances at this location. While there is work to be done within art history, there is also a need to escape that discipline’s established coordinates and critical impulses. Certainly it is possible to create an art historical reading based on cosmopolitan aesthetics, but the implication of doing so for Mongolian art would be the same as has been experienced elsewhere: the extraordinary context of production would be misread, diminished or ignored. Unique aesthetic developments, like the Mongol zurag, would, in such an encounter, be extracted into a world art history through connections to Tibetan tradition and to Central and South Asian cultures. However, it is doubtful that the Mongol zurag would have emerged without the national experience of cultural repression and release, without the pre-history of socialist realism and subversive attempts to express national sentiments in style and subject despite their rejection by the authorities. Mongolia’s art history denies the possibility of arrows connecting a succession of pioneering achievements; its achievements are there but they emerge from the milieu of art culture such as it is: good, bad and indifferent. 

This situated perspective places particular emphasis on institutions and contexts. From the situation of Ulaanbaatar, methods, materials, artworks and the new artists simply appear: they arrive but without any presumed connection to a world beyond. Cosmopolitan influence needs to be read in this way: at the site of arrival, not at the point of origin, for what arrived here was certainly different from what left there. At this moment of the emergence of new practices, so new systems, mechanisms, roles and actors are invented to accommodate them. These too are situated and nuanced. By these means art becomes enclosed in local renditions of the normalising, institutionalised, black boxes that shape connectivity, mobility and representation, and submerge from view the political and subjective manipulations that also affect the production and negotiation of the artwork but which tend to deny, in the minds of art historians, the realisation of ‘art’.[99]

The institutional shaping of art in Mongolia has not been studied but Peter Marsh’s ethnographic analysis of the morin khuur (the Mongolian two-stringed fiddle) provides an informative reading of the entangled complexity that connects the arts to identity and governance.[100] It shows the extent to which the Soviet ideological commitment to local cultural identities made the ancient fiddle in many respects an invention of modern – and modernising – socialist institutions. It had been thought of as a pre-Soviet survival. While the Russians were careful to quell the emergence of nationalistic impulses from local traditions, their cultural policies valued diversity and ‘folk tradition’ as a means to build cohesion across the empire. In Mongolia, it left a legacy of national symbols that provided a vocabulary for artists after the democratic revolution of 1990.[101] These traditional, spiritual, symbolic and historical elements became conduits for constructing the image of the county’s new, and partially reconstituted, modernity.[102] The Soviets also left behind a memory of totalitarian repression that acted as a catalyst driving artists towards images that fostered cultural recovery. Like Herbert Read’s English artists of the mid-twentieth century, the Mongolian experience is one centred on situated place, on the local and national – the indigenous – and influenced by externally originating ‘shocks’, whether from other situated art cultures, the propaganda of hegemonic modernism or the arrival of new creative media.

Democratic freedoms did not bring about a simple transition of the image or visual culture. Their immediate effect was to destabilise the capital’s art culture, leading to a shortage of materials and the intrusion of the duplicitous international market into a formerly protected state system at a time when buyers of modernist works were scarce. Professional artists complained of a new jobbing community of amateurs who were flooding the market with clichéd tourist works that were then being bought up by foreigners in the belief that they represented the state and status of Mongolian art. In time, artists adapted, the market became established and Mongolian society and politics became internationalised. Now Mongolian artists could begin to visualise their participation on the global stage of contemporary art. In 2006, the biennial, Land Art Mongolia was organised by LAM 360°. It produced its first edition in 2010. Five years later, Mongolia presented its first Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where it showed the work of Unen Enkh and Enkhbold Togmidshiirev. Aided by the Mongolian Contemporary Art Support Association (MCASA), which two years earlier had won funding from the Mongolian Embassy for its work promoting democracy and exposing social injustice, it demonstrated how rapidly Mongolia’s art culture – including its governing agencies – had adapted to the cultural and political possibilities of art in the global contemporary. Mongolian success, nevertheless, depended upon its situation; in an era of globalised engagement, which valued situated practice, there was a certain cachet to being Mongolian. Indeed, the bordered and located geography of art seemed more pertinent than ever.[103]


In this chapter, I have argued that the global contemporary – a sense of living in a globally connected and non-hierarchical world that is shaped by a pervasive interest in the present – requires a fundamental rethinking of the geography of art so as to properly recognise the situated histories of practice found in different parts of the world. Implicitly this has involved arguing against many of the disciplinary conventions of art historical interpretation; something art historians have been doing for many decades. It has not been my intention to unseat ‘classic’ or ‘international’ modernism, which as a historical period of critical and aesthetic discourse was real enough, but rather to look at the problem differently. Art historians might worry about whether international modernism contains any aesthetic truths but this is not an aspect that concerns me, just as literal or objective truths have not concerned me when I have looked at the work of scientists. My interest is in the disciplinary cultures and institutions that produce and support certain beliefs and practices, and thus lead to objects and the world being understood in particular ways. This more anthropological perspective, which values the situation of practice above the internationalising and homogenising narratives of ‘modern’ disciplines like art history, gives art new coordinates and increased richness. 

The justification for adopting this approach might be summed up quite succinctly by returning to Mongolia. In Mongolia, the adoption of Western methods of making art was associated with modernisation in a fundamental way. A society where cyclical time plays a central role in the conception of life, it found itself forced under the influence of the Soviets to view time as linear and progressive. All art in Western media in this country, regardless of style, form and content, is a product of this transformation into a modernising country. The resulting works include many that adopt a modernist language in the classic sense but to locate ‘Mongolian modernisms’ we need to negotiate all that was produced and interpret it in the context of Mongolia’s own modernising journey. The challenge is not to extend Western art history to map the world but to see, appreciate and respect Mongolian art from Ulaanbaatar and through Mongolian eyes: to imagine modernism as it was invented here and as a response or contribution to the act of becoming modern.

This reading of art through local art culture, rather than through transcendent art styles, acts to flatten cultural hierarchies between and within nations by denying the existence of universal or absolute measures of significance or quality. Without abandoning cosmopolitan influence or the importance of the avant-garde, the idea of multiple situated modernities permits all art, including the figurative and realist, to be considered an aesthetic expression of the ‘continual constitution and reconstitution’ of modernities.[104] The ethical and intellectual arguments for adopting this approach – whether considering the Indigenous communities of New Zealand or Australia, Black or Latino art in the USA, or, indeed, the art cultures of India, Nigeria or Mongolia – are beyond contestation. Worth, value, achievement and significance are attributes that must privilege this situated looking. Indeed, if we are to make sense of local or national histories of art, understanding these dynamic processes of determination and evaluation is as important as understanding the art itself. The production and consumption of the artwork is never detached from its situation; lines of influence, authority and forces for change are culturally, rather than purely aesthetically, determined. Culture – even cosmopolitan culture – is always situated and thus always implicated in processes of constructing, operating and interpreting borders.[105]

[1] David Hockney, quoted by Martin Gayford, ‘Hockney’s world of pictures’, Tate Etc 39 (2017): 48–59, 50.

[2] For a discussion of the anthropology and social psychology of doing science, see Simon Knell, ‘The progress of tiny things’, The Great Fossil Enigma (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 354–72.

[3] See, for example, Mark Wollaeger and Matt Eatough (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). For a discussion of these changes in the study of the modern novel, see Sean Latham and Gayle Rogers, Modernism: The Evolution of an Idea (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

[4] Simon Knell, National Galleries: The Art of Making Nations (London: Routledge, 2016).

[5] Elizabeth C. Mansfield, Making Art History: A Changing Discipline and its Institutions (London: Routledge, 2007), 11.

[6] James Elkins, Is Art History Global? (London: Routledge, 2007), 3–23.

[7] Knell, National Galleries, 56–8, 163–6.

[8] The Royal Academy’s Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932 (2017), for example, attempted to remember the avant-garde using an ambitious assemblage of media that was historical rather than canonical.

[9] Richard R. Brettell Modern Art 1851–1929 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 199.

[10] For a global survey of national practice, see Knell, National Galleries.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Dawn Ades (ed.), Art in Latin America (New Haven: Yale University Press,  2006), 3. For similar sentiments Serge Fauchereau, Scandinavian Modernism: Painting in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden 1910–1920 (New York: Rizzoli, 1989); Jordana Mendelson, Documenting Spain: Artists, Exhibition Culture, and the Modern Nation (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005).

[13] A critic writing in 1898, quoted in Jean Charlot, Mexican Art and the Academy of San Carlos, 1785–1915 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962).

[14] Sybil Kantor, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and the Intellectual Origins of the Museum of Modern Art (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003).

[15] MoMA, Cubism and Abstract Art (New York: MoMA, 1936), 9.

[16] This would, of course, have been quite impossible in Berlin and Moscow at this time.

[17] Kantor, Alfred H. Barr, 115.

[18] Dreier quoted by Ruth L. Bohan, The Société Anonyme’s Brooklyn Exhibition: Katherine Dreier and Modernism in America (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982), 53.

[19] Bohan, Société Anonyme; Kantor, Alfred Barr, 112; Brooklyn Museum exhibition archive, https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/exhibitions/1082 (accessed January 2017).

[20] Bohan, Société Anonyme, 30.

[21] Ibid., 35–6.

[22] Kantor, Barr, 20–21.

[23] Mark A. Cheetham, Artwriting, Nation and Cosmopolitanism in Britain (London: Routledge, 2016), 100, quoting Herbert Read, Art Now (London: Faber & Faber, 1960)Bohan, Société, 22

[24] Cheetham, Artwriting, 1.

[25] Clement Greenberg, ‘Modernist painting’, Forum Lectures (Washington D.C.: Voice of America, 1960).

[26] Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds), Art in Theory 1900–2000 (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1992), 691.

[27] Herbert Read lecturing circa 1956, quoted in Cheetham, Artwriting, 102.

[28] Herbert Read, Contemporary British Art (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1951), 39. Again, see Cheetham, Artwriting, 109, for an excellent probing of the national in art.

[29] Harold Rosenberg, Tradition of the New (London: Thames and Hudson, 1962), 209–15.

[30] Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

[31] John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters (London: Readers Union, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1957), 20–1.

[32] Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780–1850 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1960), 130.

[33] Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965), 57–65.

[34] Ibid., 66.

[35] Terry Eagleton, ‘Capitalism, modernism and postmodernism’, New Left Review 152 (1985): 60–73, 66–7.

[36]Marylin J. McKay, Picturing the Land: Narrating Territories in Canadian Landscape Art, 1500–1950 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011), 186.

[37] Herbert Read, A Concise History of Modern Painting (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974), 7–8.

[38] Rothenstein, Modern English Painters, 19–20. For his difficulties with abstraction, see the entry on Ben Nicholson, 502–24.

[39] In London, the Tate Gallery claims both to have influenced Barr, as many other galleries have done, and to have adopted his ‘route map’ as a guide to its collecting. Frances Morris, ‘From sugar cube to white cube and beyond’ in Matthew Gale (ed.), Tate Modern: The Handbook (London: Tate Publishing, 2016), 16–25, 18.

[40] Knell, National Galleries, 52–6, 167. The museum’s role in altering the object’s meaning and virtues is an often-repeated theme for museologists. See, for example, Philip Fisher Making and Effacing Art: Modern American Art in a Culture of Museums (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991).

[41] Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014 (1997)), 27–9.

[42] Greenberg, ‘Modern painting’.

[43] Rothenstein, Modern English Painters, 334.

[44] Knell, National Galleries, 33–7.

[45] In the late 1950s, for example, besides shows by individual living artists, nationally focused exhibitions of contemporary art from Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and Canada circulated in Australia. See Bernard Smith, Australian Painting 1788–1990  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 310.

[46] See for example, Dennis Reid, A Concise History of Canadian Painting  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973); Smith, Australian Painting; Robert Hughes, American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America  (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1997); Lü Peng A History of Art in 20th-Century China  (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2009/Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2010); Francis Pound, The Invention of New Zealand: Art & National Identity  (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2010).

[47]For the denial of national art, see Richard Johns et al., ‘There’s no such thing as British art’, British Art Studies 1 (2015). For discussion of whether there is anything German about German art, see Elkins, Is Art History Global?, 9. For a discussion of artistic situation and the problem of national schools, see Rex Butler, ‘A short introduction to unAustralian art’, Broadsheet 32(4) (2003): 17. Butler was considering the actuality of practice – that there might truly be something that can be regarded as national art – rather than, as discussed here, national art as a construct of such institutions as museums. In parallel with global attempts to fragment universalist conceptions have been studies of regionalism in art and architecture, which have sought to fragment the nation. Lynda Jessup, ‘The Group of Seven and the tourist landscape in Western Canada, or the more things change…’, Journal of Canadian Studies 37(1) (2002):144–179, for detailed discussion of the problem of designating national art in a strongly regional nation. Again, Jessup is discussing national art as an aesthetic truth. Also on regionalism, see for example, Leen Meganck, Linda Van Santvoort and Jan De Maeyer (eds) Regionalism and Modernity: Architecture in Western Europe 1914–1940 (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2013).

[48] On institutional performances at MoMA, for example, see John Elderfield, ‘The front door to understanding’, in John Elderfield (ed.), Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at the Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004), 8–59.

[49] A perfect example of this is the transformation of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, Number 11, 1952 (1952) which caused national outrage when acquired in the 1970s by the National Museum of Australia but which today is regarded as a national treasure. Anthony White (ed.) Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles (Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 2002).

[50] Simon Knell (ed.), Museums in the Material World (London: Routledge, 2007), 21–6.

[51] See, for example, Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984). Eagleton, ‘Capitalism’. Also, Marcia Pointon (ed.), Art Apart: Art Institutions and Ideology across England and North America (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994).

[52] Keith Moxey, The Practice of Theory: Poststructuralism, Cultural Politics, and Art History (Ithaca: Cornel University Press, 1994), 111.

[53] Donald Preziosi (ed.), The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 13–16.

[54] Preziosi, Art of Art History, 525. For various stages in art historians’ attempts to reimagine their discipline see: papers in Henri Zerner, ‘The crisis in the discipline’, Art Journal 42(4) (1982): 279–325; Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock, Avant-gardes and Partisans Reviewed (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996); Maxwell L. Anderson, ‘The crisis in art history: ten problems, ten solutions’, Visual Resources 27(4) (2011): 336–41, 337.

[55] Donald Preziosi, Rethinking Art History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 157.

[56] Preziosi, Art of Art History, 525.

[57] Terry Smith, Contemporary Art: World Currents (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2011).

[58] S. N. Eisenstadt, ‘Multiple modernities’, Daedalus 129(1) (2000): 1–29, 2–3. Earlier examples of pluralised understandings of modernity include Aziz Al-Azmeh, Islams and Modernities (London: Verso. 1993) and Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash and Roland Robertson (eds), Global Modernities (London: Sage, 1995).

[59] Ian McLean, ‘Contemporary traditions: the world of Indigenous art/Indigenous art in the world’, Humanities Research 19(2) (2013): 47–60.

[60] Ruth B. Phillips, ‘Aesthetic primitivism revisited: the global diaspora of ‘primitive art’ and the rise of Indigenous modernisms’, J. Art Historiography 12 (2015): 1–25, 6. This paper is one of a number resulting from the international collaborative research project, Multiple Modernismshttp://multiplemodernisms.maa.cam.ac.uk/ (accessed November 2016).

[61] Fred Myers, Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal High Art (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2002); Howard Morphy, Becoming Art (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2008); Peter Brunt et al. (eds), Art in Oceania: A New History (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012). Morphy and Perkins, Anthropology of Art. Ian McLean, ‘Aboriginal cosmopolitans: a prehistory of Western Desert painting’, in Jonathan Harris (ed.), Globalization and Contemporary Art (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011),147–60.

[62] Ian McLean, ‘Double desire: becoming aboriginal’, Contemporary Visual Art + Culture Broadsheet 43(4) (2014): 65–71.

[63] See, for example, Rupert R. Arrowsmith, Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African, and Pacific Art and the London Avant-Garde(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). On appropriation, see the case of Gordon Walters’ use of Māori koru, in Peter Brunt, ‘Contemporary art and its globalization’, in Peter Brunt et al., Art in Oceania, 410–39, 424.

[64] Though the concept ‘art’ did not to exist in many indigenous cultures prior to contact with Europeans. See Conal McCarthy, Exhibiting Māori (Oxford: Berg, 2007), 45–7.

[65] Elaine O’Brien, ‘The location of modern art’, in Elaine O’Brien et al. (eds), Modern Art in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: An Introduction to Global Modernisms (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 3. See the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts online archive: Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art. Recent exhibitions in the UK examining African-American art include Glen Ligon: Encounters and Collisions, Tate Liverpool, 2015 and Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern, 2017.

[66] Knell, National Galleries, 116–8.

[67] Eisenstadt, ‘Multiple modernities’, 2.

[68] Johann P. Arnason, ‘Communism and modernity’, Daedalus 129 (2000), 61–90, 61.

[69] Eisenstadt, ‘Multiple modernities’, 3–5.

[70] John E. Bowlt, ‘Realism victorious’, in Andrew Ellis (ed.) Socialist Realisms: Soviet Painting 1920–1970 (Milan: Skira Editore, 2012), 129–33, 129.

[71] Kantor, Alfred Barr, 161–88.

[72] Greenberg, ‘Avant-garde and kitsch’, 38.

[73] Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, 24.

[74] See, for example, the place of America in the construction of MoMA, Kristina Wilson, The Modern Eye: Stieglitz, MoMA, and the Art of the Exhibition, 1925–1934 (New Haven: Yale, 2009).

[75] James Elkins, ‘Afterword’ in Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann et al. (eds), Circulations in the Global History of Art (London: Routledge, 2015), 203–229, 205–6. Other collections debating the global turn in art history include Kitty Zijlmans and Wilfred Van Damme (eds) World Art Studies: Exploring Concepts and Approaches (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2008); Jill H. Casid and Aruna D’Souza, Art History in the Wake of the Global Turn (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014). 

[76] Kaufmann et al., Circulations.

[77] Ibid., 1.

[78] Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, ‘Reflections on world art history’, in Kaufmann et al., Circulations, 23–45, 32.

[79] Aliya Abykayeva-Tiesenhausen, Central Asia in Art: From Soviet Orientalism to the New Republics (London: I.B. Taurus, 2016), 17.

[80] Parul Dave-Mukherji in conversation in John Clark et al. ‘The possibility of a world art history’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art 9(1–2) (2008): 42–7. 

[81] O’Brien, ‘Location of modern art’.

[82] Harris, Globalization, 1. 

[83] O’Brien, ‘location of modern art’, 3, quoting James McFarlane, ‘The mind of modernism’, in M. Bradbury and J. McFarlane (eds), Modernism 1890–1930 (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1976), 71–94.

[84] Partha Mitter, ‘Decentering modernism: art history and avant-garde art from the periphery’, Art Bulletin 90(4) (2008): 531–48;Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977); Partha Mitter, The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-Garde 1922–1947 (London: Reaktion Books, 2007).

[85] Rebecca M. Brown, ‘Response: provincializing modernity: from derivative to foundational’, Art Bulletin 90(4) (2008): 555–7.

[86] Mitter, ‘Decentering modernism’.

[87] Mary Louise Pratt, ‘Modernity and periphery: towards a global and relational analysis’, in Elisabeth Mudimbe-Boyi (ed.), Beyond Dichotomies: Histories, Identities, Cultures and the Challenges of Globalization (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), 21–48. Paul Young, ‘Peripheralizing modernity: global modernism and uneven development’, Literature Compass 9(9) (2012): 611–6.

[88] See O’Brien, ‘Location of modern art’, 6, on Boletin Titikaka.

[89] Mark Wollaeger, ‘Introduction’, Wollaeger and Eatough, Handbook of Global Modernisms, 1–24, 1.

[90] Sanja Bahun, ‘The Balkans uncovered: toward Historie Croiséof modernism’, in Wollaeger and Eatough, Handbook of Global Modernisms, 1–27, 20.

[91] John Urry, Global Complexity (Cambridge: Polity, 2003), 84.

[92] Ulrich Beck, ‘The cosmopolitan society and its enemies’, Theory, Culture & Society 19(1–2) (2002): 17–44, 23.

[93] Ibid. 25.

[94] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 2004).

[95] Paula L. W. Sabloff (ed.), Mapping Mongolia: Situating Mongolia in the World from Geologic Time to the Present  (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Baatarnaran Tsetsentsolmon, ‘The “gong beat” against the “uncultured”: contested notions of culture and civilization in Mongolia’, Asian Ethnicity 15(4) (2014): 422–438. Isabelle Charleux, ‘The making of Mongol Buddhist art and architecture: artisans in Mongolia from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries’, in Elvira Eevr Djaltchinova-Malets (ed.) Meditation: The Art of Zanabazar and his School (Varsovie: Asia and Pacific Museum, 2010), 59–105. Christopher Atwood ‘The art and architecture of Mongolia’, in Madhavan K. Palat and Anara Tabyshalieva (eds) History of Civilisations of Central Asia, 6 (Paris: Unesco, 2005), 711–34, 711. 

[96] It is estimated that 800 monasteries were destroyed and 17,000 priests were murdered. Ts. Batbayar, ‘The Mongolian People’s Revolution of 1921 and the Mongolian People’s Republic (1924–46)’, in Palat and Tabyshalieva, History of Asian Civilisations, 6 (Paris: Unesco, 2005), 353–361, 358.

[97] Morris Rossabi, Modern Mongolia  (Oakland: University of California Press, 2005). 

[98] Françoise Aubin, ‘Patrimoine artistique et réécriture du passé dans la Mongolie du XXe siècle’, Anthropos 107 (2012): 467–79.  N. Cultem and D. Sandagdorz, Development of the Mongolian National Style Painting ‘Mongol Zurag’ in Brief (Moscow: Gosizdat, 1986). Atwood, ‘Art and architecture of Mongolia’, 727–31.

[99] On the opening of black boxes, Bruno Latour, Science in Action (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), 1–17

[100] Peter K. Marsh, The Horse-Head Fiddle and the Cosmopolitan Reimagination of Tradition in Mongolia  (London: Routledge, 2014).

[101] Tom Ginsberg, ‘Nationalism, elites and Mongolia’s rapid transformation’ in Stephen Kotkin and Bruce A. Elleman (eds), Mongolia in the Twentieth Century: Landlocked Cosmopolitan  (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999), 247–76. Orhon Myadar, and James Deshaw Rae, ‘Territorializing national identity in post-socialist Mongolia: purity, authenticity, and Chinggis Khaan’, Eurasian Geography and Economics  55(5) (2014): 560–77, 564. Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia  (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).

[102] Ole Bruun and Ole Odgaard (eds.), Mongolia in Transition  (London: Taylor and Francis, 1996); Uradyn Erden Bulag, Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998); Uradyn Erden Bulag, The Mongols at China’s Edge  (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). Grégory Delaplace, ‘Neighbours and their ruins: remembering foreign presences in Mongolia’, in Franck Billé, Grégory Delaplace and Caroline Humphrey (eds), Frontier Encounters  (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012), 211–33; Timothy Michael May, ‘Traditional and Contemporary Art’, in T. M. May (ed.), Culture and Customs of Mongolia (Greenwood Press, 2009), 77–90; Uranchimeg Tsultem, ‘Tradition and transition: Mongolian artists and the Venice Biennale’, Orientations, Sept. 2015: 97–103.

[103] John Clark, ‘The Worlding of the Asian Modern’, in Michelle Antoinette and Caroline Turner (eds), Contemporary Asian Art and Exhibitions: Connectivities and World-Making  (Camberra: Australian National University, 2014), 67–88. Terry Smith, Contemporary Art: World Currents (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2011).

[104] For the cultures of rejection of this art, see Matthew Bowen, Zelfira Tregulova and Evgenia Petrina (eds), Socialist Realisms: Soviet Painting 1920–1970 (Milan: Skira Editore, 2012), 17–19.

[105] Ginsberg, Nationalism; Delaplace, ‘Neighbours’; Doris Wastl-Walter, (ed.), The Ashgate Research Companion to Border Studies(Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2011), 1–8. Ksenia A. Melehova, ‘Formation and development of artistic traditions in the fine arts of Mongolia’, European Journal of Science and Theology 10(6) (2014): 243–52.

Source: Simon Knell (ed.) The Contemporary Museum: Shaping Museums for the Global Now (London: Routledge, 2019 [2018]), chapter 1.