The Art World Olympics
Posted by gninja on January 13, 2008
At the Australian:
They used to call it the art world Olympics.
But that was something of a misnomer because, unlike the real Olympics, the Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art focused on Europe. The UNESCO-sponsored congress used to be very much about Western art, with the history of other places simply ignored as irrelevant.
As far back as 1975, however, the committee, known as CIHA, realised it was too Eurocentric. It took until the early 1990s, however, for an expansion to take effect. It was decided that the conference, held every four years like the Olympics, should shift out of Europe and into centres that had previously been left out of art history. Centres such as Australia.
Next week, the 32nd congress of CIHA will be held at the University of Melbourne. It will bring together more than 600 participants from a record 47 countries, a number convener Jaynie Anderson, professor of art history at the university, is proud of. It signals, even before the talking begins, that her theme – Crossing Cultures – has been recognised as the hot topic for art history at the beginning of the 21st century.
Good for CIHA.
My only addition to posting this article is a reaction to a–I think–throwaway quote at the end of it:
[Jaynie] Anderson, an art historian steeped in the Italian Renaissance, is no less adamant about the need for a radically new approach.
“This conference is edgy,” she says, “I’ve been surprised that the political edginess of art history has not been exploited more.
“People think art history is not political, so there’s been very little political analysis.”
Really? What people? The history of art is inherently political. From its institutional inception in the 1870s, art history has determined what is and what is not worthy of the label ‘art,’ or at the very least, worthy of a vocal position within Western culture. If artist X or monument X doesn’t get dissertations, articles, and books written about him/her/it, then she/he/it becomes a cultural tree-falling-in-the-woods. When art history textbooks neglected to mention women artists, there was no art by women. Obviously, there was, but in not including it in the canon, female artists were rendered virtually invisible.
These are some damned banal statements to be making here. Which is why I’m all the more surprised by the comment that “people think art history is not political.”