We are now in the midst of an epochal transformation of the history of art and its canon. Two key facets of this are, first, the discovery that the story of modern art is global, not concentrated first in Paris and then in New York, and, second, the emergent definition of the current period of art as “contemporary.” The ideas of modernism and postmodernism do not explain or communicate the changes that ensued from the end of the Cold War in 1989: the era of globalization, the spread of integrated electronic culture, the dominance of economic neo-liberalism, the appearance of new types of armed and terrorist conflict, and the change in each nation’s place in the world. All of this suggests the emergence of a new cultural period, and not necessarily a better one.
The new and controversial description of present-day art as forming a movement that should be described as “contemporary”—a movement whose features include an interest in place making, connectivity and, for our purposes most crucially, world picturing—overrides older distinctions based on style, medium, and ideology that had dominated art and art theory during the modernist period. But this is not all: artists have come to understand that art during the contemporary period has been indelibly marked by the conditions of war around the globe, and this situation stretches at least back to WW1 and the birth of modern art. Contemporary art is, very frequently, art that is in some way about war.
Understanding and communicating war’s increasing centrality within both the modern and contemporary periods requires a new approach to both making art and writing: it requires a bottom-up approach to local art histories, defying the tendency of art history’s most senior international scholars to expect only derivative art in distant centres and who label it according to fixed ideas of how art would develop (i.e., the canonical textbook of the modern and contemporary periods).
Instead, we must seek out transnational, lateral contacts and resonances between artists and across borders, regardless of the fact that we seem hard-wired to think nationally in increasingly redundant silos (even as nationalisms surge again). As Reiko Tomii writes, “it becomes an important task for world art historians to seek out and examine linkable ‘contact points’ of geo-history.” She asks, how can we create transnational art histories that bridge the inevitable silo of national art history, connecting the local to the global? For a start, she answers, ‘It cannot be overstated that the more global we want to be in our investigation, the more local we need to be in our attention.’ Connections can be obvious, but the resonances that we can retroactively find have been all too often willfully dismissed as mere evidence of belated influence by arbiters at the metropolitan centre or their local apologists.
Instead, she offers the following method: ‘As a foundational tool, comparison of connections and resonances create contact points that puncture the established Eurocentric narrative.’ These would be, as she argues here, the building blocks of a world art history that is truly transnational. They require re-examining moments in art history and narrating them anew. We live in the period of contemporaneity, which has succeeded modernism, and through this revised lens we can now reassess the artistic potential of war art which many contemporary artists have participated in.
Find an error? Take a screenshot, email it to us at email@example.com, and we’ll send you $3!