September 13, 2019

Global Art History and the Documentary Turn: Theory, Method, Archives

NYU Abu Dhabi Institute

Courtesy NYU Abu Dhabi Institute.

If the 1990s marked an unprecedented interest in archives in art theory, as well as in art and curatorial practices, arguably the 2000s witnessed a so-called “documentary turn” characterized by a growing interest in the discovery of art-related archival materials from non-Western contexts. Grouped under the rubric of “documents” these writings are deemed formative for select traditions of modern and contemporary art. The work of their translation, reassessment and exhibition in the metropolitan hubs of cultural production is ongoing. Prominent museums and publications, including ARTMargins, have since launched book series and rubrics that present various compilations of documents as sourcebooks from global margins while art centers and museums develop various curatorial strategies for the presentation and display of documents and archives in an exhibition format. While the “documentary turn” has opened up new and rich avenues for scholarly research, it has also participated in the politics of the archive along with the commodification of documents from the global margins.

In 2002, with the publication of Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s, the Museum of Modern Art in New York launched its Primary Documents series, a compilation of artists’, critics, art historians’ and theoreticians’ writings from Central and Eastern Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. This inaugural publication was followed by similar sourcebooks on contemporary Chinese art, as well as on the art of Japan, Latin America, the Middle East and most recently, Central and Eastern Europe after 1989. The publication of the series has coincided with a turn in art history and museum practices that has come to be characterized as “global”. If in art history this turn seeks to expand the methodological assumptions of the discipline and question its relevance for divergent geographies and contexts, in museological practices it has led to the expansion of collections and departments in prominent institutions along with geographically defined modern and contemporary art departments, curatorial positions or acquisition committees. For example, with the 2016 opening of the Met Breuer building, New York’s Metropolitan Museum’s Modern and Contemporary Art Department expanded to include curators of the Art of the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, of South Asian art and Latin American art. Similarly, Tate Modern’s expansion to the Blavatnik building in the same year brought with it new institutional commitments to acquiring art from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America and South Asia.

The workshop will include scholars and curators who are critically engaged with the global turn in art and art history to question and examine the role of newly available sources “documents“—in art historical research and pedagogy, the institutional politics of the circulation of these sources, questions of translation and the relationship between art history writing and new expanded collections of major metropolitan art institutions, amongst others. The interventions will range from meta-critical and theoretical discussions to introducing documents that have been formative for specific art historical contexts.

This workshop will be convened by Associate Professor of Art History at the American University of Beirut (AUB) Angela Harutyunyan and Associate Professor Practice of Art History at NYU Abu Dhabi Salwa Mikdadi.

It is organized in collaboration with the Art History program in the Department of Fine Arts and Art History at the American University of Beirut, ARTMargins journal, NYU Abu Dhabi Art & Art History Program, and NYU Abu Dhabi Institute.

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