Art History

We thank the Clark Studies in Visual Arts, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, for permission to reprint this article.

What becomes of art history when the world shrinks into a planet? Art History in the wake of globalization has become more a matter of traversal of space than teleology. This broadening of the field owes a lot to the disciplinary crisis in the west of the 1980s. While global art history has emerged as a major field of study, it has brought art histories from other regions into new visibility. In this paper, I intend to also draw attention to the disciplinary crisis in art history in India around the turn of the 21st century with the advent of the cultural studies turn and with that, highlight another crisis in global art history that revolve around the use of comparative method to address cultural difference.

That Art History as a discipline can claim of a provenance in Europe when it first emerged around late 18th century is hardly disputed. Nor it is debatable that art history entered the non-west under the aegis of colonialism around the same time. These two factors- the European provenance of Art History and its dissemination in the non-west under colonialism have spawned Eurocentrism in the disciplinary formation of art history in the west.

In this paper, I intend to examine the state of art history in India in globalized times and how globalization poses a challenge as much to Eurocentric art histories in the west as well as to nationalist art histories in India. While recent research in the west has undertaken critique of Eurocentrism of Art History, [1] cultural nationalists’ rewriting of art history in the colonies around the hegemonic notion of “Indian” identity has received scant attention in the wake of globalization. [2]

Over the last decade, several art historians and cultural theorists in the US and Europe have recognized the urgency to reorient frameworks of art historiography to avoid Eurocentrism and explore alternative theoretical paradigms. [3] With teleology coming under the scanner as a source of cultural hierarchies, important institutional moves have been made to redress Eurocentrism by broader geographical traversals. [4] Drawing from current debates about the impact of globalization on art history and art writing, I will assess their relevance for Indian art history and art practice and also pose questions about the way non western art histories are being invoked in the current redressing of Eurocentrism and attention has been devoted to pre-modern texts on art practice in search of authentic native intellectual tradition. Can non-western art theory be grasped only by what appears to be an antiquarian engagement with ancient texts and not addressing them in the light of disciplinary debates that abound about retrieving the past from a postcolonial present?

Current disciplinary concerns inflecting art history in India show a strong impact of the cultural studies turn that has helped widen the constituency of art objects via an anthropological understanding of art as in the west. However, the ‘new art history’ in India that the cultural studies made possible also had to address the politics of representation that brought out into the open the dynamics of caste, apart from that of class, gender and sexuality.

In engaging with the history of art history in India, this paper will also explore the relationship between contemporary art practice and the critical tools of art history via the political and argue for a closer sync between the two. Given the recent dismissal of post colonial discourse in the contemporary art world, it is important to resist such a move and reclaim the political via the postcolonial discourse. In this reclamation, the questions of time and space can take on the political charge and resonate with contemporary western revisionist approaches to art writing where space has received more primacy than time? [5] Is there a corresponding shift from the “when” to the “where” of art in modern Indian art historiography and how does it relate with the state of art history and the question of identity politics in India?

Art History and its Career in Colonial India

Art History, a product of European Enlightenment and imperialism at once, rose in late 18th century when Europe began to consolidate itself as different nation states. In that sense, it was art history that offered an ideological edifice to national art histories by which various geographies came to be identified. [6]

When art history did travel to India by mid 19th century under the aegis of colonialism, it entered India with a civilizing mission to reform native taste in art and culture though the establishment of art schools. [7] However, art history’s entry into India encountered resistance from cultural nationalists. [8] Central to the debates about the worth of ‘native’ art was the question of fine arts as a valid category which was denied by many colonial critics and art historians. Once the cultural nationalists were able to establish with help from the fellow orientalists that not only did fine arts have a hoary past but this past needed to be judged though a culturally specific yardstick that an important move towards decolonizing art historiography was made by the imposing figure of Ananda Coomaraswamy. [9]

If ‘naturalism’ was a convenient yardstick with its inbuilt chronology to condemn Indian art for its anatomical inaccuracies used by the colonial art critics, transcendentalism emerged as an alternative model which informed the nationalist narrative of writing art history. The upshot of this move was that religion became an overarching frame to view all facets of Indian art and Indian nation state a prism through which cultural practices could be assessed. What was overlooked was that current geographical boundary of India was itself a historical formation and had little validity for earlier historical periods that were far more trans-cultural and trans-regional, connected through trade, religion and of course, wars.

Today it is time to rethink narrative strategies of art historiography when contemporary global condition blurs national boundaries as the world connects though trade, migration of people, goods, images and ideas and art practice imagines the world differently through the virtual space of the internet and the mobility of the artists and the curator.

In fact, the very task of representation central to art writing and art practice is itself under scrutiny. Just as art history in the west passed through disciplinary crisis when elitism of formalism came under scrutiny and politics of representation was foregrounded around gender, sexuality and class, [10] art history in India experienced similar convulsions around the close of 20th century. In the case of the latter, apart from the social and political hierarchy of class, gender and sexuality,itwascasteandtheelitism of Indian art history with its strong Brahmanical bias that has invited contention from cultural theorists. [11]

Art History in the West and the Yoke of Eurocentrism.

In this section, I will focus on recent attempts by art historians and critics in the west to enlarge the scope of art history and contemporary art practice to include its cultural others. While this move has been unprecedented and responsive to the new global reality of the post-Cold War and postcolonial world, I will reflect on the power dynamics at play in the exercise of the dominant "global art history," and of the potentials of "mishearings" of the voices from the regions.

My interest in the impact of globalization on art history and art theory as practiced in the west can be traced to my encounter with James Elkins’ Stories of Art in a book shop in Oxford around 2001. This book that appeared in 2000 had pioneered the move to situate art history in a global context and subsequently it was followed by similar attempts to reflect critically on the politics of exclusion and inclusion built into the inception of art history as a western discipline. It is for this reason that Elkins’ position on global art history receives close attention in this essay.

The title- The Stories of Art itself hinted a plural and multicultural approach to art history and promised a paradigmatic shift from E H Gombrich’s widely read and authoritative The Story of Art. Much as it attempted to resist eurocentrism in its mapping of world art and art histories, its foray into non western art histories was what caught my attention. It brought to the fore basic asymmetry in knowledge between “us” and “they” that Dipesh Chakravarty evocatively refers to in the context of the discipline of history.

“That Europe works as a silent referent in historical knowledge becomes obvious in a very ordinary way. …Third-world historians feel a need to refer to works in European history; historians of Europe do not feel any need to reciprocate. … “They” produce their work in relative ignorance of non-Western histories, and this does not seem to affect the quality of their work. This is a gesture, however, that “we” cannot return. We cannot even afford an equality or symmetry of ignorance at this level without taking the risk of appearing “old-fashioned” or “outdated.” [12]

The Stories of Art was a bold venture that had set out to break a new ground in art history by underlining the need to familiarize the western readers with non western aesthetic texts as a necessary framework for non-western art works. However salient and commendable this move is, within a dense civilizational discourse in which the pre-modern texts are embedded, the act of culling out a fraction of a text and making it representative of tradition at large gets mired in asymmetry of knowledge systems of the west and the non-west. [13] While in the west, pre-modern art theory, say, of the Greeks and the Romans is alive and participate in discourse on visual representation that has been constructed as a continuous intellectual trajectory, the pre-modern categories in the Indian context that were once a part of rigorous theoretical lineage now exist as practical concepts, bereft of theoretical lineage. Seldom does a South Asian art historian engage with these concepts as resources for critical thought for the present. What Elkins intervention provokes is the recognition of the gap between ‘live’ and dominant discourse of art theory in the west that sets out to make sense of the other intellectual tradition and the ‘dead’ concepts of pre modern Indian art that are consigned to history and antiquarian interest- the latter itself bearing the marks of the postcolonial condition of its knowledge system.

David Carrier’s A World Art History and Its Objects published eight years after Elkins’ The Stories of Art is yet another response to globalized times and addresses the fundamental question of reorienting the art historical narrative to accommodate multiple cultural perspectives. Although both books identify themselves with their multicultural present and cast doubt about the logic of the narrative of world art history, the basic storyline remains the same. Each in his own way maintains that narrative in a historical sense as well as aesthetic discourse remain absent in pre-modern India. Partly, the problem lies with the way art history in India has evolved where seldom does the art historian trained largely in western stylistic analysis speak to the Sanskritists or Tamil scholars trained in traditional concepts of aesthetics.

Perhaps one should hail Elkins’ engagement with the non western art discourse as an inaugural move heralding a new moment for art history that counters Chakravarty’s statement about the state of history practiced in the west. It would seem that in art history, it is no longer “possible for ‘them’ to produce ‘their’ work in relative ignorance of non-Western histories. What poses as a major problem in global art history’s auto- corrective procedure is the line between relative knowledge and relative ignorance. What does the knowledge about the non western art history consist of? Can gesturing towards some text decontextualised from current disciplinary debates and willful invocation of non western philosophy as idealist and metaphysical suffice a meaningful engagement?

My earlier critique of James Elkins’ handling of the non western art history has exposed to me the vulnerability of a discipline that had not considered the other art histories in its formation. [14] In subsequent writings, Elkins recognizes that global art history cannot simply adopt an additive method of assimilating the non western art histories to western art historical protocols of spatiality and temporality. [15] Rather than a simple accommodation, the entry of these other art histories will raise radical questions of the very form of an art historical narrative and hence the need to engage with the conceptual baggage that they carry. But the desire to penetrate the non western discourse in hindered by an instrumentalist notion of non western knowledge system- to know the knowledge system of the others so as to reflect on the limitations of the self. Hence it is not surprising that despite Elkins’ best efforts to grasp the alterity of non western art theory, his method is reminiscent of what was adopted by cultural nationalists like A K Coomaraswamy who pioneered the discipline of Indian art history in the early decades of 20th century. Surprising, therefore, is Elkins’ shift from his earlier foray into shilpashastras or treatise on art like the Chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara Purana [16] which is almost a technical manual on art making, into the idealist philosophy of Upanishads made most familiar to the west by Coomaraswamy toreinforcethenationalistviewthatIndian art theory centred around god or Brahman.

In this way of conceiving the activity of the sign, every mark. “stroke,” and image is variably real or unreal, true or false, empty or full, in relation to its orientation toward or away from Brahman. [17]

What started as the ambition to write a world art history resonating with the Hegelian desire to witness the whole of world art from some universalist vantage point, now acquires a different formulation in global art history. Having made the important move of recognition of alterity and cultural difference, Elkins then takes resort to the familiar landscape of stereotypes that hark back to colonial times. His invocation of the divine as the founding centre of art practice finds resonance with the cultural nationalists in India of early 20th century who were compelled to create a counter-posture for Indian art as idealistic and transcendental to differentiate it from ‘western materialism’. For ‘new’ art historians in India like me, who turn their critical gaze at pioneering art historians like Coomaraswamy for their nationalist essentialisation of “Indian” identity, the global art historians’ endorsement of metaphysical Indian art theory is anachronistic and seem to stage a scenario, wherein Eurocentricism in its effort to self deconstruct, shows complicity with bygone nationalism.

Similar ‘mishearings’ occurred at a workshop organized at the Max Mueller Bhavan in New Delhi in 2008 as a part of the Global Art Museum project. The two day intense interaction between art historians and artists in Delhi with Hans Belting and Andrea Buddenseig that converged around global issues of contemporary art was lively as an event. While it opened up a space of exchange between the German and Indian scholars, the misattribution of the term “de-historicize” to represent Geeta Kapur’s theoretical practice made me wonder at the very notion of a dialog that such a workshop had intended to create.

“In conclusion, Geeta Kapur stressed that participants ought to “de-historicize” the global present and forget the cultural premises which differ in each case.” [18]

For a cultural theorist like Kapur who continues to embrace Marxism, this mode of theorization of culture would be a gross misrepresentation of her practice. In spite of the collective resistance by the Indian scholars to play the role of native informers, their interventions were contained within the dominant framework in the manner in which the workshop proceedings were recorded. The report of the exchange exposed the flaw in the structure of ‘fieldwork’ adopted by art historians and the mantle of anthropology taken on by them- the assumption that proximity to the scholars in India in their own terrain would produce an authentic representation of their position.

Disciplinary Crisis of Art History in India

In this section, I propose to outline the conditions under which the move towards New Art History in India was made around the turn of the 21st century. The most immediate reason for its emergence was the realization of a disciplinary crisis with the state of art history in India. However, this crisis needs to be historicized in relation to the connect between art practice and art theory at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda. As a case in point, let me take you back to such a scenario in 1980s in Baroda when art practice revealed a different dynamic and declared its disjunction with an earlier practice, while art theory lagged behind and could not quite fit into its contemporary space.

In terms of art practice, artists who now have come to be known as part of the Baroda narratives school, [19] posed a compelling critique of a Eurocentric internationalism and the hegemony of abstraction in India and engaged with the local within a cosmopolitan framework. Their return to figurative art was deemed as different from the grand narratives of allegories favoured by early nationalist artists. The Baroda based artists, fashioned fractured tales that broke up linearity of narration and in a preliminary sense, addressed the question of public sphere both in terms of depiction- where you would have protagonists marked by class identity as never before, as well in terms of address-the way a viewing public was imagined.

Out of sync with its times was the discipline of Art History that still uncritically was lumbering under the colonial and nationalist legacy of connoisseurship, stylistic analysis, the search for ‘Indianness’ and the rare masterpieces. The Hegelian imperative of tracing art across history as a story of progress compounded by Coomaraswamian transcendentalism continued to impel the discipline ‘forward’.

While art writing on contemporary art was getting contestatory, -in which Geeta Kapur’s Place for People, 1982 marking a significant intervention, Art History was caught in historicism and remained insular from radical developments in social sciences, particularly linguistics, cultural anthropology and philosophy.

During the 1980s, Roland Barthes and John Berger were held up as inspiring figures in art practice and art criticism, whose writings introduced semiotics and Marxism into debates on culture, Art History opened its frontiers to structural anthropology gingerly. Ancient myths and epics attracted attention as a compelling cultural force driving pre-modern narratives in paintings and sculptures. Largely drawing inspiration from Levi Strauss’s methodology, Ratan Parimoo, assisted by his team of researchers turned to Vaisnavism as an overarching framework for studying Indian painting and culture. In the shift from formalistic analysis to content study, the influence of Erwin Panofsky was critical.

What was missing in the way Art History as a discipline was structured was any concern with the political. While in the west, the discipline underwent convulsions with the Marxist and feminists questioning the elitism of Art History and raising the question of politics of representation, the practice of Art history in India continued unruffled. Within the pedagogic practice, Art History and Art Criticism were offered as separate disciplines that further deepened the divide separating Art History as historical and a discipline that engaged only with the pre-modern and Art Criticism that expunged itself from history and trained to build a tunnel vision to look only at the contemporary. It was this separation between the historical and the critical that did not allow the political to figure as a major concern.

Again, the political emerged first in discourses centered on art practice. I trace the political in the Place for People essay by Geeta Kapur around a few decolonizing moves it makes. It begins by undoing the construct of Indian identity embedded in colonial and national art historiography around the polarity of the materialist west and transcendentalist India, It isstriking howanessayoncontemporaryart devotes a large section to an art historical narrative that reaches back to Indus Valley civilization. Kapur seeks to establish a lineage for contemporary art practice that had re-habilitated the figurative in art. It revisited the past to recover the depiction of everyday life in pre-modern art.

It is interesting how contemporary art practice that enshrined the narrative and discovered the public in its midst, compelled the art critic and art historian to engage with past traditions from similar lens. The project is to revisit the past to make it directly usable in contemporary times and to free Indian artists from western tutelage on one hand and charges of derivativeness from the west.

Its more radical intent lay more with the way it wanted to “let people come back into the pictures and tell their stories.” Realizing that the political cannot inhere only in allowing people to enter the frame of paintings and be confined to the subject matter, Kapur invokes Marcuse’s notion of affirmative culture which is not directed at the role of the art gallery system and the market as agents of affirmation but more a reflection on the legitimacy of elite interventions in cultural discourse.

Such an understanding of the political even if ensconced within the leftist discourse, was declared as inadequate by the members of the Kerala Radicals who in mid 1980s deployed leftist critical tools to offer an institutional critique. In their manifesto, they underlined ‘praxis’ as their key word while challenging the art world and questioning the easy coexistence of leftist discourse and the elitism of the art public. The commodification of art and its complicity with capitalist economy was condemned and search for alternative spaces for art practice sought out.

The 1990s was also a decade of the discovery of the alliance of post structuralism, post colonialism and culture studies when exchanges across departments of English Studies and Art History were energizing debates and giving rise to cross disciplinary conversations that led to a sense of disciplinary crisis. These debates grew out of an increasing discomfort with the framework of art history that could scarcely explain the field of the visual in our time. A number of conferences were organized around the themes of politics of representation, gender, sexuality that strongly registered dissatisfaction with the state of art history that had celebrated a humanist and politically neutral position.

It was clear that the given disciplinary framework was inadequate in accommodating interrogations of the discipline itself -that’s when the term ‘new art history’ began to gain currency despite our discomfort with the term ‘new’ and its market savvy implication of novelty. When the discipline undertakes an interrogation of its own tools and methodology and underlines its theoretical inadequacy, it makes a shift from both colonial and nationalist legacies.

Emerging out of similar dissatisfaction with conventional art history was the inception of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, set up in JNU in 2001. It introduced, (in place of Art History), Visual Studies and Theatre and Performance Studies and later Cinema Studies. Visual Studies formally spelled the demise of the nomenclature - art history or History of art. Given its grounding in anthropological definition of art, inclusion of aesthetics in the naming of this school has periodically come under the scanner for its implications for high art. In all the three fields, nationalist histories have been problematized and it has instead focused on popular culture, public sphere, institutional frameworks for art, museum studies, minor arts, Dalit visual culture, photography and their relationship with cinema and the performative traditions.

Western Responses to Globalization of the Art World.

In the west, the theme of globalization has powerfully captured the imagination of many leading art historians and curators and it has compelled many to envisage the end of hegemony of the canons of western art history.

“With the upheavals coming in the wake of globalization and its attendant movements of past twenty years, the era that witnessed the prevalence of Western canons in art history has come to a close. A global contemporary of diverse origins has taken its place.” [20]

In western art history, no book embodies western canons of art as forcefully as Gombrich’s Art and Illusion around the central thematic of naturalism. However, there was an anti-naturalist moment or its reading in Art and Illusion, laying open radical possibilities seized more by literary critics than art historians, but this great art historian hesitated and retracted, fearing a lapse into cultural and perceptual relativism; and the time of publication was mid 1950s when world had yet to witness the disconcerting effects of globalization. The baton was passed to Elkins to envisage a heterogeneous art history in the plural for the multicultural era of 1990s. While Gombrich incorporated Non-western art histories as inconsequential branches sprouting from his Tree of Art, Elkins questions the very basis of incorporation by reclaiming Art history as western on various grounds -a. that only cultures that show awareness of history can be suitable candidates. b. without the armature of history, no coherent narrative is possible without which art history as a discipline ceases to exist. [21]

Let me turn to another quote from Dipesh Chakravarty as he stages a conversation between the western and non-western knowledge systems:

This is a gesture, however, that “we” cannot return. We cannot even afford an equality or symmetry of ignorance at this level without taking the risk of appearing “old-fashioned” or “outdated.” [22]

What does it mean to return the gesture within the emerging discourse of global art theory? The impetus to ‘return the gesture’ is coming from western art historians who pose it as a challenge to the art historians working in and on the non-west that it is they who now have to fashion their conceptual tools drawn from their ‘native’ knowledge system.

Does it mean that ‘we’ search for indigenous tools and Indian theories of art criticism, if at all such categories existed, and turn away from western methodologies, in quest for some authentic Indian conceptual framework? Such a quest has been launched in literary theory in India where scholars trained in English literature desired to revisit the past and engage with classical literary theory. [23] While this has yielded mixed results generating excitement in encountering a different conceptual framework located in the precolonial past, it can also lead to nativism and cultural insularity. Perhaps equally important is to engage with the Indian aesthetic theory of Rasa (Aesthetic rapture) and Dhvani (semantic resonance) not as historical categories only forIndianartbutalsoconceptual catalystthat can enable a new entry into western art. What also needs to be considered is the present climate of lurking religious fundamentalism like Hindutva that may read into this move assertion of cultural superiority. After all, to imagine that the best of Indian culture is preserved in classical texts in Sanskrit is out of keeping with art practice that was carried out by low caste artisans with little access to high theory.

The only way I can think of returning the gesture is by returning the gaze to western theory and construct a meta-theory. There are at least two moves possible to adopt meta-theory. 1. To provincialise art history as a product of imperialism and colonialism 2. To argue that when theories travel to another location, they are deployed in reference to another cultural terrain and a different range of artifacts and practices come into visibility. At times, the new material or content demands a different frame to engage with it just as they demand new tools to be refashioned to address them.

The opening question in Is Art History Global by Elkins poses a binary that defeats the project of global art history.

“Can the methods, concepts and purposes of western art history be suitable for art outside of Europe and North America? And if not, are there alternatives that are compatible with existing modes of art history?” [24]

My answer to this rhetorical question is both a yes and a no. There are some methods, concepts and purposes of western art like formalism, iconography in conjunction with deconstruction and postcolonial theory that are useful in India to ask new questions not only about the new cultural terrain that opens up but also about how the old questions emerged in the first place. What is the logic of an alternative if it is assumed to be compatible with the existing modes of art history? Primarily ethnicity and thinking have to be disassociated from each other so that methods and theoretical procedures that evolved at a given space confront new objects that demand their different use. Pre-modern art theory from, as for example, an ancient Sanskrit text from a different horizon may be opened up by asking questions about representation that have contemporary resonance. And at the same time, by placing the classical texts within its politics of representation with its class, caste and gender dynamics, its own modes of cultural exclusion and inclusion come to the fore.

From the axis of time to that of space

In the 1990s, the sheer complexity of identity politics unleashed by postmodernism in the west was related with the tyranny of the temporal and space was offered as a vector more accommodating of cultural difference. [25] The emerging primacy of space over time is best witnessed in David Summers’ Real Spaces as an attempt to rewrite global art history. [26]

Under global contemporary, the transcultural dimension of modernism and its multiple avatar has gained credence offering a new visibility to different spatial registers of modernist art practice. However, global art historians articulate the challenge posed by multiculturalism to art history as how to write art history outside the narrative framework. Can art history that discounts the narrative still be considered as art history? Art History in the narrative mode privileges the linear format and hence risks creating hierarchies.

When we question the Eurocentric art histories like E H Gombrich’s The Story of Art for under-representation of the nonwestern art histories, the same critical gaze has to be directed at Indian art histories which are no less exempt from the exclusion of the internal others- the subalterns in various registers along the axis of gender, class, caste, region, religion, sexuality- , women artists, the regional modernists, women regional modernists, dalit artists, women dalit artists, gay and lesbian artists. These social groups found hardly any space within the Nehruvian socialist paradigm and the overarching frame of the national modern.

From the postcolonial perspective, is it possible to bypass the temporal and privilege the spatial register to rewrite history of art in India? Is space any less hierarchical than time? To give an example of a historical narrative on Indian art, let me turn to Geeta Kapur’s When was Modernism? Will its rewriting in terms of Where was Modernism redress its politics of representation? Will the Where in place of the When yield answers that are region specific, escape the compulsions of linear logic of time and offer a more democratic space to the cultural others?

If globalization has eroded the fabric of the Nehruvian ethos of secular citizenship and created favourable conditions for identity politics to enter public sphere, curatorial practices today show a different dynamic.

In resonance with the claims of exclusion from world art history by other nation states outside the Euro American domain are those made by regions within the framework of the national modern in India. In the writing of the history of modern and contemporary art by Geeta Kapur, globalization had been viewed as a threat to the validity of the national modern and nationalism has been upheld as a means to counter the adverse effects of globalization. Ironical is the fact that it is the withering away of the identity of the national state that has liberated the regions to claim their autonomy and with that, it heralded the claims of the regional modern to be written into art history. [27] If we shift from the teleology of when was modernism to where was modernism, the topography of art fundamentally alters from the bare landscape of a few urban centres around Delhi and Mumbai to the one populated with new actors and institutions in Hyderabad, Madras, Kolkata and other regional centres of art. The space of the regional modern also has to be fractured through the question of class, caste and gender and the very insertion of artists from positions of marginality into the frame will contribute to relativize the canons of modern art history rather than expand the existing structures.

In the current discourse around cultural practices of globalization largely remain anchored in the new binary formed between the global and the local. In the context of art history in India, the mediation of the national cannot be pushed out of the frame. Notwithstanding the fact that the national modern has fallen under the scanner as a consequence of globalization, it has not been totally evacuated of its meaning and informs the politics of representation at the local and global levels. The disjunction between the local and global is more obvious in curatorial practices embraced by Indian curators who strive to erase the presence of the national modern and to open a new chapter envisaging a postidentitypoliticsscenarioandwhereas there is apersistence of national pavilions in the international exhibitionary spaces. The recent Indian pavilion at the Venice Biennale is a case in point where the curator from India, Ranjit Hoskote resisted the category of the nation by focusing on art practice by the diaspora and those who worked at the periphery of the nation state.

Today art history and its discontents cannot be viewed as circumscribed by western and non-western location of the discipline. Critique of Eurocentrism built into art history in the west lapses into a facile exercise if it is not accompanied by a parallel critique of cultural nationalism which inflected art history in India through its essentializing of the “Indian” identity. The turn to cultural studies has liberated Indian art history from restricted focus on high art and civilizational discourse and made visible new objects from popular visual culture. The anthropological turn has foregrounded a different temporality of the everyday life and ephemeral objects that constitute it. The democratization of art history that the cultural studies turn has led to brings on to the map many new actors that had remained in the shadow of the national modern. How will the insertions of women artists, dalit artists, folk and tribal artists disturb the bigger picture and shake the very ground on which stands the art historian? The task of the art historian is not to celebrate the denser peopling of the art map but to rethink the coupling of the visible and the sayable so as to register the new postcolonial redistribution of the sensible. And it is also to grasp the double movement of shrinkage of the world into a planet and the simultaneous expansion of the constituencies of the artists and the viewing public.


[1] James Elkins, The Stories of Art, New York: Routledge, 2000; Hans Belting, Art History after Modernism, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003; David Summers, Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism, New York: Phaidon, 2003; Thomas Da Costa Kaufmann, Toward a Geography of Art, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004.

[2] Partha Mitter and Tapati Guha Thakurta have conducted pioneering research on regional art histories that emerged in 19th century Bengal. Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India,. 1850-1922: Occidental Orientations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994: Tapati Guha Thakurta, The Making of a New 'Indian' Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

[3] Among major art historians from Europe and the United States are Hans Belting, Andrea Buddenseig, Monica Juneja, Kajri Jain, David Summers, David Carrier and James Elkins.

[4] These moves are most prominently made within the US academia supported by the Getty Research Institute and the Clark Institute in organizing round tables, workshops and conferences to explore regional art histories and possible interaction among art historians, cultural theorists and practitioners from post-colonial and post socialist countries.

[5] Thomas Da Costa Kauffman, Toward a Geography of Art, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004. David Summers, Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism, New York: Phaidon, 2003.

[6] David Carrier, A World Art History And Its Objects, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008.

[7] Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India,. 1850-1922: Occidental Orientations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994: Tapati Guha Thakurta, The Making of a New 'Indian' Art, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

[8] It is to be noted that the first art history department that was set up in India during the colonial times was in Kalabhavana in 1919 by art historian, Stella Kramrisch of the Vienna school and not in the colonial art schools which focused on industrial arts and crafts. Later, it was first introduced as an adjunct to ancient Indian history and archeology department.

[9] A K Coomaraswamy, The Transformation of Nature in Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1934.

[10] Donald Preziosi, Rethinking Art History: Meditations on a Coy Science, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985.

[11] Shivaji Panikar, Parul Dave Mukherji, Deeptha Achar (eds.), Towards a New Art History: Studies in Indian Art, New Delhi: D K Printworld, 2003.

[12] Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 28.

[13] Also pointed out by Monica Juneja, “Global Art History and the ‘Burden’ of Representation” in Global Studies. Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture, Hans Belting et al (eds) Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern 2011, p. 279.

[14] Parul Dave Mukherji, “Putting the World in a Book: How Global Can Art History Be Today,” in Anderson, J (ed) Crossing Cultures: Conflict, Migration and Convergence, The Miengunyah Press, Melbourne, 2009, pp.91-96.

[15] Elkins, “Why is Art History Global” in Globalization and Contemporary Art, ed. Jonathan Harris, Oxford: Blackwell, 2011, pp. 375-386.

[16] Elkins, The Stories of Art,

[17] Elkins, On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 208.

[18] Hans Belting and Andrea Buddensieg, The Global Art World: Audiences, Markets and Museums, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2009, p. 22.

[19] Artists like Gulam Mohamad Sheikh, Bhupen Khakhar, Vivan Sundaram et al.

[20] Hortensia Volkers and Alexander Farenholtz, artistic directors of The Global Contemporary, September 17, 2011- February 5, 2012, ZKM, Museum of Contemporary Art., p 4.

[21] Elkins, The Stories of Art.

[22] Chakrabarty, p. 28.

[23] G N Devi, After Amnesia: Tradition and Change in Indian Literary Criticism, Bombay: Orient Longman, 1992; Makarand Paranjape, Nativism: Essays in Literary Criticism. Editor. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1997.

[24] Elkins, “Art History as a Global Discipline”, Is Art History Global? , ed. James Elkins, New York and London: Routledge, 2007, p.3.

[25] David Harvey. The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

[26] David Summers. Real Spaces: World Art History and the. Rise of Western Modernism. London: Phaidon, 2003.

[27] For a critique of the national modern, see Shivaji Panikkar’s “Reading the Regional Through Internationalism and Nativism: The Case of Art in Madras”, in Shivaji Panikar, Parul Dave Mukherji, Deeptha Achar (eds.), Towards a New Art History: Studies in Indian Art, New Delhi: D K Printworld, 2003, pp. 105-121.

Sign In Close
Only Critical Collective subscribers can access this page.
If you are already a subscriber, then please log in.
 Forgot Password?
Subscribe now
Sign In Close
Only Critical Collective subscribers can access this page.
If you are already a subscriber, then please log in.
 Forgot Password?
Subscribe now

The Photography Timeline is currently under construction.

Our apologies for the inconvenience.