Blog

Conference Speakers and Abstracts

Professor Miguel de Baca (Lake Forest College / University of Oxford)

The Flat-Footed Boogie-Woogie: Clement Greenberg and the Washington Color School

 In 1962, the Washington, DC-based color field painter Gene Davis wrote a letter to the critic Clement Greenberg to thank him for reviewing his work, and to express regret that Greenberg had found his recent canvases ‘flat-footed’. Davis’s stated aspiration to meet the critic’s approval reveals a power dynamic flowing between New York, the center of international art, and Washington, a city known mainly for politics but experiencing a cultural renaissance during the Kennedy years. This paper considers the significance of the regional Washington Color School to Greenberg’s quickly evolving sense of modernist painting after abstract expressionism.

Miguel de Baca is the Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art at the University of Oxford for 2017-18. He is interested in issues of memory-making and the representation of history as they intersect the history of abstraction. Among his other interests are video and digital art, culture jamming, protest, artistic collaborations, and critical studies of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Miguel’s monograph, Memory Work: Anne Truitt and Sculpture, for which he received a Wyeth Foundation for American Art Publication Grant, was published by the University of California Press in 2015. His current book project, Video Art and Public Culture, is about activist uses of video and digital art from the 1960s onwards. Additionally, he has written several essays for museum and gallery catalogues, anthologies, as well as for Artforum and Art in Print.

Miguel’s home university is Lake Forest College, where he is the chair of the Department of Art and Art History.

 

Dr James Boaden (University of York)

Locating Nancy Holt

In 1974 Nancy Holt spent a week staying at 39 Locust Street, New Bedford, Massachusetts. The building was the home of her aunt Ethel, who at the time was in hospital having a malignant tumour removed from her breast. During her time in New Bedford Holt photographed the interior and exterior of the building and later used the images as the basis for her single channel video work, Underscan (1974). The tape juxtaposes the photographs with Holt’s monotone reading of Ethel’s letters sent to her across the course of a decade – the letters combine Ethel’s daily life with the physical state of her home. The same year Holt exhibited the installation Points of View at the Clocktower Gallery in New York – this work juxtaposes four monitors each showing a view of Manhattan with various art world insiders describing what they see on the monitors voiced over the top. Taken together these two works continue the preoccupation across Holt’s career of working with the idea of location – yet here this question develops into a crucially affective one, distance in Underscan is estrangement as it becomes intertwined with questions of care, location is developed discursively in the conversations of Points of View. This paper will consider how Massachusetts might function as a provincial elsewhere to downtown Manhattan at this moment and how life narrative is used to bring it closer.

James Boaden is lecturer in modern and contemporary art at the University of York. He is a specialist in American art, and experimental film and video, and has published work in Art History, Oxford Art Journal, and Little Joe. He has also programmed film screenings at BFI bankside, Tate Modern, and Nottingham Contemporary. 

 

Dr Lucy Bradnock (University of Nottingham)

The heartland, the frontier, the art world: performing provincialism in mid-century Los Angeles

This paper explores the discourse of provincialism in emerging art scenes in the post-war decades, with a focus on the mutually defining relationship between California and the Midwest. I explore the ways in which the provincial was deployed as a deliberate strategy by artists and curators in Los Angeles, and the extent to which that provincial position mobilised the Midwest as a symbolic discursive site. In the hands of ‘Los Angeles artists’ who were born in the Midwest, and in terms of the status of the city of LA as a product of Midwestern migration, the region played a key role as a place left behind, and thus articulated key regional hierarchies in the American cultural imaginary. Via an analysis of the spatial rhetoric of regionalism, the heartland, and the frontier, I argue that the Midwest existed as a crucial symbolic presence in the Los Angeles art world as it attained national and international recognition, albeit one that was suppressed even as it was performed.

Lucy Bradnock is currently working on a book, provisionally entitled No More Masterpieces: Modern Art After Artaud, which is an analysis of American art of the 1950s to the 1970s through the lens of the American reception of the French writer Antonin Artaud. In the two years following her PhD, as a postdoctoral fellow at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, she worked on a project entitled Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945-1980, which included an exhibition and accompanying publication, for which she co-authored two chapters. Recent publications include editing the collected volume, Lawrence Alloway: Critic and Curator (2015), which was awarded the Historians of British Art prize for a mutli-authored volume.

 

Dr Anthony Gardner (University of Oxford)

1967: Notes on the Centre Part II

abstract to follow

Anthony Gardner’s main research areas are postcolonialism, postsocialism and curatorial histories. Among his book projects are Politically Unbecoming: Postsocialist Art against Democracy (MIT Press, 2015), Mega-Exhibitions: Biennials, Triennials, Documentas (with Charles Green, 2016) and the anthology, Neue Slowenische Kunst (with Zdenka Badovinac and Eda Čufer, 2015). He is also an editor of the MIT Press journal ARTMargins and the anthology Mapping South: Journeys in South-South Cultural Relations (Melbourne, 2013), and has published in many other books and journals including Third Text, Postcolonial Studies, The Cambridge Companion to Australian Art and Global Studies: Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture.

 

Dr Larne Abse Gogarty (Humboldt Universität, Berlin)

Social and psychic damage in Monster Roster

In 1956, Nancy Spero painted the work Homage to New York (I do not Challenge), which depicted a roughly-drawn tombstone onto which the initials of prominent New York-based artists were inscribed; ‘JP’, ‘MR’, ‘EK’ and others appear, signifying artists that are more-or-less recognisable on initials alone today. On either side of the tombstone, the bust of a figure is depicted, each sticking out their tongue and wearing a kind of dunce cap. ‘NANCY’ and ‘SPERO’ are emblazoned across their chests. At the top of the canvas appears the words ‘I do not challenge’ and, at the bottom, ‘homage to New York’. In Mignon Nixon’s text ‘Spero’s Curses’ (2007) she analyses Spero’s painting as invoking ‘the contempt that burns from exclusion’, stressing that Spero takes her feminist revenge by symbolically burying her rivals.

Whilst the gendered dynamics in Homage to New York are clear, in this paper I instead take the painting as a starting point to address how Spero’s revenge also emerged from her position as a Chicago-based figurative artist, working within the group that would come to be described by critic Franz Schulze as ‘Monster Roster’. Alongside Spero, I address the work of other artists that have been associated with the group, focusing on Dominick di Meo, Cosmo Campoli and Evelyn Statsinger. In particular, I pay attention to the shared aesthetic investment in damaged forms of figuration within this group, exploring their emphasis on the figure as an ‘outsider’ tendency in relation to the dominance of New York school abstraction. Here, the question of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ is thus gendered and geographically constituted, but ultimately I situate these categories as representative of the dynamic between politics and the psychic in their work, a key terrain of exploration for the group that was underpinned by an interest in psychoanalysis, existentialism and dissident surrealism (Antonin Artaud). Finally, I discuss how these intellectual and political coordinates rested upon an attempt to refigure the capacities of a leftist politics after the advent of McCarthyism and the loss of faith in the Soviet Union, and before the fruition of 1960s liberation movements. Working in this apparently aporetic political moment, I show how the work of artists associated with Monster Roster in the 1950s sought to foreground – through the figure – the relationship between social and psychic damage as capable of contesting dominant, liberal Cold War humanism.

Dr Larne Abse Gogarty is the Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at the Humboldt Universität, Berlin (2016-2018). She completed her PhD at University College London in 2015. Her primary research interests lie in modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on American performance, sculpture and social practice, Marxism, race and gender. She is currently working on her first book, provisionally entitled The Art of Living: Social Practice and State Formation in American Art. Larne has previously held positions at University College London (2015-2016) and has taught at Goldsmiths College and Chelsea College of Art. She has published her work in Tate Papers, Object, Historical Materialism, The Journal for Visual Arts Practice and has an article forthcoming in Third Text. She regularly writes criticism for Art Monthly and elsewhere. She is on the editorial collective for Cesura//Acceso, a journal for music, politics and poetics.

 

Professor Charles Green (University of Melbourne)

1967: Notes on the Centre Part I

 This subject of this paper is the late-1960s art criticism and exhibitions that marked the arrival of post-World War Two American art and art criticism and argued for its overwhelming impact. We will focus on the Delhi, Kyoto, Sydney and Melbourne instalments of the Museum of Modern Art-sponsored travelling exhibition, Two Decades of American Painting, where great 1950s and 1960s New York School paintings from the great centre of art were displayed in Australia’s two biggest art museums, at the supposed periphery. Until now, the connections between international art and internationally triumphant New York School painting, along with its associated art criticism—principally that penned by its then-immensely powerful theorist, Clement Greenberg—have usually been seen through the lens of centre-periphery relationships. Here, however, we explore these writings and events as a succession of resonances and contacts between two international contemporaneities. And we will insist on the contemporaneousness of art made in the provincial centres of Delhi, Melbourne and Sydney compared with the equivalent provincialism of the centre, New York. The largest art world province, New York was supercharged in its pretensions to universalism courtesy of the Cold War and its unbroken projections of sheer American economic and political might. But in the late 1960s, Australian art became contemporaneous with American and European art (as did art in Japan, Eastern Europe and South America) and would be so with art as innovative and significant as anything in New York from this point onwards. During 1967, the large, loan exhibition, Two Decades of American Painting, coordinated and curated by the International Program of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, toured to two Australian cities, first to Melbourne at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and then to Sydney at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), at the end of an itinerary that had comprised Kyoto in Japan and New Delhi in India.

The importance of this exhibition is indisputable but its impact is less obvious. All artists and students active in Australia during the late 1960s remember visiting the show. It remains, for most, an indelible memory. Two Decades was one of the two most remarked upon international exhibitions of contemporary art in the history of Australian art; the other, French and British Contemporary Art, was presented in 1939 at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) in Adelaide, the Melbourne Town Hall in Melbourne and David Jones’ Art Gallery in Sydney. The impact of Two Decades was enormous in terms of the public appreciation for what was then contemporary art. But the works were appearing belatedly, most of them too late to genuinely have an influence on advanced Australian artists’ practices, except at the level of measuring size and ambition. The world had already moved on, well beyond Abstract Expressionism and almost beyond Pop art. Even so, the Minimalist muteness of both Ad Reinhardt’s notoriously blank ‘black squares’ and Andy Warhol’s soup cans still carried considerable incendiary charge, offending conservative artists and public alike. The significance, instead, was that Two Decades was a watershed event at the end of one idea of world art and the start of another. Therefore, the exhibition and its aftermath, including the art criticism it attracted and the shifts in touring exhibitions it announced, deserves a full account. We wish to downplay any sense that the exhibition introduced artists to new art, but also to understand Two Decades within the framework of an understanding of multiple international contemporaneities, within which we question the narrative of North Atlantic primacy and progenitors. The exhibition represents the intersection of an emergent global contemporaneity with the diminishing expectation that innovation would be diffused from a metropolitan centre.

Charles Green is Professor of Contemporary Art in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Author of Peripheral Vision (Craftsman House, 1996) and The Third Hand (University of Minnesota Press, 2001), he recently published a history of biennials in contemporary art, Biennials, Triennials and Documenta: The Exhibitions that Created Contemporary Art (2016), with Anthony Gardner, assisted by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant. Lyndell Brown and Charles Green have worked in collaboration as one artist since 1989. They are based in regional Victoria. Their works are included in most of Australia’s public art museum collections and many private and corporate collections. In 2007, they were Australia’s Official War Artists, deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and between 2011 and 2014 worked on a follow-up collaboration with artist Jon Cattapan (assisted by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant) about the aftermath of Australia’s wars since Vietnam, which the three artists exhibited in Melbourne across two galleries in late 2014, accompanied by a book (Framing Conflict: Contemporary War and Aftermath, 2014). Dr Lyndell Brown is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.

 

Dr Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel (École Normale Supérieure)

Scale Matters: In and out of the Geopolitics of art after 1940

My paper will consider how we as historians engage (and fail to engage) with the geographic categories which led to the USA’s questionable designation as the center of world art after 1940, a position just as questionably afforded to France before 1940. Narratives vary according to how we define, or choose not to define, commonly used but rarely discussed notions – centre and periphery, diffusion, domination, influence – and according to the methods and source with which we work. The centre-periphery approach is based on the dubious but common methodologies that dominate our discipline: the monograph, nationalism and ethnocentrism, and evolutionist formalism. This same groundwork underpins the canon of our museums, which has been increasingly challenged in recent years. Other methods that afford decentred and more historically complex narratives are possible. I will outline the results of an approach which combines global, circulatory, and local scales. It begins by measuring, comparing, and charting objects of study at a global level, before looking at the transnational/ translocal circulation of artworks and artists, and finally analyzing the works and texts themselves.

The insights afforded by this approach include the following:

  • By globalizing our perspectives, we discover that until the end of the 1950s, everything was still to play for in terms of artistic prestige. Agents from countries the world over were all asserting the validity of their avant-garde projects, while numerous cities similarly strove to establish themselves on the global artistic scene.
  • A comparative cartography of exhibitions shows that U.S. art’s international breakthrough occurred only in the 1960s, and reveals that this art’s global circulation was almost exclusively limited to Europe. Further study of this breakthrough reveals a ‘back-and-forth’ dynamic wherein artistic legitimacy was first established in Europe and only later at home. Long before its coronation at Venice in 1964, American ‘Neo-dada’ art had first developed within European avant-garde networks which were more receptive than the New York art world. Pop art was similarly trumpeted as an ‘American’ style only after big-budget exhibitions had promoted it in Europe.
  • When we look at individuals, it becomes clear that even after the supposed victory of U.S. art at the 1964 Venice Biennial, the notion of a world capital of art remains questionable. For US artists and for artists throughout the world, it is other, foreign countries that remain the symbolic space in which reputations are forged. They are consistently presented as more central and more legitimate than the local scene, and allow artists to aspire to an external recognition that is no less effective for being often more fantasized than real.
  • Clearly the centres of reference vary according to the individuals, the scales, and the trajectories in question.

Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel is Associate Professor at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, université Paris Sciences Lettres (Maître de conférences, Habilitée à diriger les recherches in Modern and Contemporary Art). She works on the history of the avant-gardes from a global and transnational perspective, an area of research that led her to explore quantitative and cartographic approaches, digital humanities, and collaborative research. She is the founder and director of the ARTL@S project, launched in 2009. Among her publications: Nul n’est prophète en son pays? L’internationalisation de la peinture avant-gardiste parisienne, 1855-1914 (2009  – prix du musée d’Orsay); with Thomas Da Costa Kaufmann and Catherine Dossin (ed.), Circulations in the Global History of Art (2015); and  Les avant-gardes artistiques – une histoire transnationale 1848-1918 (2016), Les avant-gardes artistiques – une histoire transnationale 1918-1945, vol. 2 (2017); and forthcoming: vol. 3, 1945-1968, (2018).

 

 Dr Ed Krcma (University of East Anglia)

The Provincialism Problem in the Early Reception of Rauschenberg’s Work

In 1974, Terry Smith famously argued that, ‘The projection of the New York art world as the metropolitan center for art by every other art world is symptomatic of the provincialism of each of them.’ This paper explores the early reception of Robert Rauschenberg’s work, examining the ways in which this border-crossing artist elicited responses that reveal the wages of provincialism and transnationalism in the post-war period. For Smith, New York was but one provincial hub amongst many, albeit the one that enjoyed the most power and reach, and the one whose criteria were adopted by the majority as determining. Focusing upon Rauschenberg’s reception in New York, the UK, and Germany before the artist’s controversial win at Venice in 1964, this paper explores the specific manner in which the cutting edge of cultural practice was imagined, projected and contested, both by those positioning themselves as its agents, and those looking at it from without, and with a mixture of exhilaration, curiosity and scepticism. In this, questions concerning skill, aesthetics, avant-gardism, political commitment, commodification, and sexuality are all at stake, Rauschenberg provoking forms of desire and anxiety, celebration and approbation, that reveal the shifting configuration of concerns in each art world they touched.

Ed Krcma’s research focuses on European and American art after 1945, with an emphasis on the history and theory of drawing and its relationship to time and embodiment. His most recent work has focused upon the American artist Robert Rauschenberg, and, in particular, his series of illustrations after Dante’s Inferno, in which a radically experimental mid-twentieth-century art practice met one of the most celebrated works of the European canon. This series of illustrations is the subject of his first monograph, Rauschenberg/Dante: Drawing a Modern Inferno, which was published in May 2017. In connection with this research he has also contributed an essay to the catalogue accompanying the current Rauschenberg retrospective, organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Tate Modern, London.

 

Moran Sheleg (University College London)

A Specious Relationship: ‘Art and Art Deco’ Revisited

During the final month of 1968, just as his curatorship at the Whitechapel Gallery was coming to an end, Bryan Robertson expressed reservations over the ‘present direction of American painting, and its followers elsewhere’ in light of two exhibitions he had recently seen around London’s Bond Street. Contrasting the work of Keith Vaughan, a stalwart British artist in his fifties, and that of a thirty-something American painter by the name of Frank Stella, in this dual review Robertson plainly states that such a comparison goes beyond what he calls ‘the old, tired opposition of figurative painting to abstract art,’ and instead points to ‘a totally different set of physical terms as well as intentions’. Siding with Vaughan’s ‘dour’ and ‘difficult’ canvases, which he sees as undermined by the ‘melting ease’ of Stella’s large-scale works, Robertson relegates the latter to ‘the field of charming light-weight decoration’, readily associated with the ‘spectacle’ of neon lights and stage curtains.

Published in The Spectator, a traditionally conservative periodical, Robertson’s damning review of the new work showcased in Stella’s second solo exhibition at Kasmin Ltd. would appear as a surprising critical turn for a curator who had previously done so much to raise the British public’s awareness of the work of American artists including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as that of a ‘new generation’ of London-based artists, as showcased in a trilogy of exhibitions held between 1964 and 1966 titled, appropriately enough, The New Generation – the first of which, dedicated exclusively to painting, included work that would soon reinvigorate debates over precisely the same problematic tendency that Robertson would go on to chastise in regards to Stella.

Perhaps the pitfalls of success had rocked Robertson’s earlier confidence in what David Thompson hailed in his introduction to The New Generation catalogue as British art’s entrance onto an international stage after ‘a long provincial doze’. Taking seriously the indignation fuelling Robertson’s critique of Stella as a harbinger of the rise of ‘Art Deco’ over ‘Art’ proper, this paper examines how and why Robertson would launch his argument along nationalistic, as well as generational, lines, in order to ward off the encroachment of a transatlantic ‘influence’ which, in contrast to that celebrated by Lawrence Alloway and the Situation exhibition of 1960, was now proving itself to be not only distasteful but potentially dangerous to the regional diversity fuelling British art’s precarious provincialism.

Moran Sheleg is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History of Art, University College London, where she earned her second Masters degree after graduating from the University of Cambridge. She also holds a BA (Hons) degree from the University of York. Her doctoral thesis reconsiders painting in America and Great Britain since the 1950s, beyond the histrionic narratives that have consequently shaped its critical standing as a practice inherently besieged by crisis. Her research is fully funded by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (AHRC).

 

Dr Alex J. Taylor (University of Pittsburgh)

Hard Edge, Soft Sell: Richard Smith’s Transatlantic Abstractions

Writing in 1968, curator Kynaston McShine claimed Richard Smith as the ‘single young European painter whose work is on a level with contemporary American painting in terms of ambition and innovation,’ praising his art for having ‘no hint of that provincialism which haunts even the most gifted artists who have no direct contact with the mainstream.’ McShine explains Smith’s achievement as the result of his ‘early and continued ties to the New York art scene’, exposure that made it possible for him to ‘assimilate the concepts that animate advanced painting today’ and ‘keep pace with new ideas as they are generated.’ McShine is right to understand Smith’s paintings in relation to the dominant currents of New York painting in the sixties, engaging as they do with the concerns of both post-painterly abstraction and pop. But one should also acknowledge the transatlantic nature of Smith’s works from these years, an up-close familiarity with American visual culture that still suggests its viewing from a distance.

In this paper, I will explore how Smith’s art and writing were informed by his encounters with both American modernism and consumer culture in late 1950s London, and the diplomatic and commercial imperatives within which such sources circulated. In major works such as Gift Wrap (1963), Smith’s use of consumer packaging as the source for abstract paintings register, I will suggest, the increasingly multinational character of such image cultures. The global expansion of American brands had required visual identities that were not only instantly recognizable, but that were able to move from market to market with minimal variation. Even if such images had a deliberate American accent, their visual impact and expressive effects sought to transcend history, language and nation. Especially upon his return from the United States, Smith’s paintings recognized that successful modern painting demanded seamless international recognition and transmission, properties that he saw at work in the visual cultures of global consumption.

Alex J Taylor is Assistant Professor and Academic Curator at the University of Pittsburgh. From 2014-2016, he was Terra Foundation Research Fellow in American Art at Tate, where he led the Refiguring American Art initiative. He is the author of Perils of the Studio (2007), and has contributed to publications including American Art, Oxford Art Journal and Art History

 

Dr Amy Tobin (Goldsmiths, University of London)

In and Out of Harlem: Candace Hill’s Politics of Homeplace

In 1979 two lots on the intersection between Morningside and Malcom X Boulevards in Harlem played host to two guerrilla installations. On one side of the road the windows and doors of an empty tenement building were covered with silver Mylar, while on the other a vacant lot was surrounded by a 12ft white picket fence, concealing a motorboat stored behind it. Both interventions – Reflections on Vacancy and Black and White in Closure – were the work of Harlem-based artist Candace Hill (then Hill-Montgomery), who shortly after installing them exhibited at and performed in spaces including Artist’s Space, Franklin Furnace, The New Museum and ‘The Times Square Show’. The Harlem installations traced the limits of property and privacy for the local African-American and Puerto Rican communities, who were on the cusp of being forced out of already sub-standard housing in the area, once famous as a cultural centre. The mirror-Mylar covers and white fence forced the point that disorder and concealment were issues of race and class. This paper considers Hill in relation to bell hooks’ work on the marginalisation of African-American communities within American cities, as well as her writing on the homeplace as a counter measure, and a space of safety for the family. While the Harlem works may have lamented the breakdown of the area as a homeplace, Hill’s installations in SoHo and beyond agitated the spaces of the burgeoning alternative art world in Manhattan. Her contribution to ‘The Times Square Show’ (1980) – an exhibition arguably provincial in its microcosmic focus on the seedy side of New York – instead reached out to and connected race struggles in Harlem and Chicago. 92 Morningside and Remember Fred Hampton (1979) cited and sited the attempted arrest of the Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur and the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton. This piece contrasts with readings of ‘The Times Square Show’ as decadent and politically eclectic, while highlighting Hill’s ethics of alliance.

Hill’s work provides a lens through which to perceive the centrism of the emerging alternative art world in post-industrial New York. Her work exploited the broken-down spaces of the city and the political urgency of art toward the end of the 1970s, while foregrounding the still latent, still hidden and still displaced struggles over race and civil rights in America. Her work addresses provincialism as a problem and suggests routes to connect – perhaps in a translocal formation – around safety, community, identification and belonging.

Amy Tobin is associate lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She completed her PhD, titled ‘Working Together, Working Apart: Feminism, Art and Collaboration in Britain and North America, 1970–1981’, at the University of York in 2016. She has published research in Feminist Review, Tate Papers, MIRAJ and British Art Studies, and chapters are forthcoming in Other Cinemas edited by Sue Clayton and Laura Mulvey (2017) and A Companion to Feminist Art edited by Maria Buszek and Hilary Robinson (2017). She is also a co-editor of London Art Worlds: Mobile, Contingent and Ephemeral Networks, 1960–80 (forthcoming, 2018).

 

Dr Leon Wainwright (Open University)

Between the United States, Britain and the Caribbean: Pop as a Register of Provincialism and Belatedness

In the late 1950s and early 60s, as the British Empire underwent decolonisation, artists in London faced north west, looking across the Atlantic to the United States. Fascinated by the scale and tone of its industrialised, popular cultures – advertising, music, celebrity – artists underscored and envied the newfound global dominance of America, its ‘centrality’ and ‘advances’, its ‘lead’. But that show of transatlantic admiration was less a sign of internationalism than an opportunity for the reassertion of an exclusive version of national identity in Britain. Pervasive, local anxieties about the diminishing status of Britain were channelled toward making a virtue of the provincialism and belatedness of a former ‘centre’ such as London. Indeed, the art of ‘pop’ here came to be defined by the embrace of ‘displaced’ or ‘outsider’ subjectivities, through the celebration of gay, working class and Jewish personalities. The persuasive power of such discourses of inclusion rested, however, on the significant edging out of Caribbean, African and Asian artists of the Commonwealth and women. In the art and figure of Caribbean-born painter Frank Bowling (b.1936), whose multiple migrations across the Atlantic entailed settling by the late 1960s in New York, we can explore a vivid register of the geopolitics of this period. This presentation will attempt to explain why the diasporic and transnational experience captured in Bowling’s work and biography was subtracted from the common narrative of British pop, even as the ambivalent regard for America during this period seemed to engender the elevation of provincialism and belatedness.

Leon Wainwright is Reader in Art History at The Open University, UK. His research has a transatlantic scope, bringing together the politics of historiography in art history with the philosophy of aesthetics, and new approaches to materiality and geographical space in the social sciences. His book Phenomenal Difference: A Philosophy of Black British Art (2017) follows Timed Out: Art and the Transnational Caribbean (2011). He has edited or co-edited four books: Triennial City: Localising Asian Art (2014), Objects and Imagination: Perspectives on Materialization and Meaning ( 2015), Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity (2017), and Sustainable Art Communities: Creativity and Policy in the Transnational Caribbean (2017). He is co-editor of two forthcoming book anthologies: Art in Theory: An Anthology of Changing Ideas: The West and the World 1400 to the present, and The Routledge Companion to Global Art Histories. He is a former long-standing member of the editorial board of the journal Third Text, and founding editor of the Open Arts Journal. From 2014-2015 he occupied the inaugural position of Kindler Chair in Global Contemporary Art at Colgate University, New York, and has held visiting roles at UC Berkeley, Yale, and the University of Oxford. He is a recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Prize in the History of Art.

 

Dr Molly Warnock (Johns Hopkins University)

The Tel Quel Idea of American Painting

Over the course of four issues spanning the months March-April 1967, the French journal  Le Lettres françaises publishes a suite of articles by the prominent poet-critic Marcelin Pleynet. Collectively entitled ‘De la peinture aux Etats-Unis’ (On Painting in the United States), and spurred by the author’s then-recent six-month stay on the other side of the Atlantic, the texts attempted to theorize the course of American painting from roughly the emergence of Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism through the pivotal early achievements of Frank Stella. In so doing, they also provided perhaps the first sustained, French-language account of the broad contours of Clement Greenberg’s conception of the modernist enterprise. Fifty years later, Pleynet’s articles deserve to be seen as central documents in the belated, halting, and notably anxious reception of post-World War II American art and criticism within the Hexagon.

Driven by a close reading of ‘De la peinture’, this talk will have a double aim. It will attempt, first, to illuminate the formative role of Pleynet’s criticism for the development of a distinctive view of American art on the part of the writers and critics associated in the 1960s and ’70s with the influential Parisian journal Tel Quel. Well-known in the United States as a primary conduit for much of what we now call ‘French theory’, Tel Quel also participated crucially in the construction of a new critical discourse around painting, one that defined itself in explicit relation to—and in large part against—what Pleynet and his colleagues saw as the positivistic and ultimately provincial cast of Greenberg’s formulations on “the modernist reduction.” Second—and by way of further unfolding these negotiations—this paper will consider the Tel Quel group’s early and enduring admiration for the contemporary painter James Bishop. Born in the United States in 1927 but active primarily in France since 1958, Bishop appears in this context as an exemplary figure, one who learns to make compelling use of the most radical achievements of American painting precisely by getting “outside” that nascent tradition and its prevailing formalist frameworks. Taken as a whole, this body of writing has much to teach us about the transnational reception of American art and criticism in the crucial decades following the Second World War.

An assistant professor in History of Art at Johns Hopkins University, Molly Warnock specializes in twentieth-century art and theory, with a particular focus on abstraction in Europe and the Americas. The author of Penser la Peinture: Simon Hantaï (2012), she has also published writings in, among other journals, Artforum, Art in America, Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne, Journal of Contemporary Painting, and on nonsite.org, as well as in numerous exhibition catalogues. Her present projects include an expanded, English-language version of her Hantaï monograph, as well as a comprehensive study of the American artist James Bishop.

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