2021 Grewe - Modernisms Peripheries
From Cordula Grewe
Calls to globalize 19th-century art history tend to articulate notions of alterity, heterochronia and the need for greater inclusivity against the foil of a hegemonic European modernism. Yet such projects all too often treat that modernism as a monolithic and unified phenomenon. How tenable is this notion (and its unchallenged dominance) once we shed our French-avantgarde blinders, rethink the Academy not just as an obstacle to, but a forum of innovation, and apply the insights and lessons of global art history to the study of European art itself? Hardly tenable at all. For one, the power and allure of Paris as an epicenter of 19th-century culture has tended, with the exception of a thriving exploration of the British Empire, to cast great swathes of European artistic activity into neglect. At the same time, where global art history readily recognizes the power of religion, 19th-century European art history has been resistant to the revisionist pressures from other fields in the humanities to acknowledge the persistence of religion in Western culture, thus instinctively affirming an Enlightenment narrative in which western modernity is exhaustively defined by the struggle and eventual triumph of secularism over religion and superstition. Inspired by Dipesh Chakrabarty’s dictum to provincialize Europe, this paper explores what happens if we “glocalize” its 19th-century art, understand European peripheries and borderlands through the lens of a globalized art history, and develop an inclusive system of “multiple modernities” and “heterochronous chronologies,” which—in turn—might allow us to theorize several layers of geographical, political, aesthetic, and spiritual distance and distancing. Proposing to break down the binary of thinking in or outside of the box, this talk asks how the lessons of such a revisionist narrative of 19th-century art could be applied to other eras and arenas as well, and the talk explores to this end interpretative approaches to art produced in and for the Third Reich (by both artists seeking accommodation with the Nazi regime and artists exhibited in the so-called Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937).