No Drums or Spears

Jasper, Adam. (2017) No Drums or Spears. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 67/68. pp. 299-315.

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In the 1980s a shift occurred in the way that global art was shown and discussed, one that can be illustrated with a famous institutional misstep: "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern at MOMA (1984). Ostensibly, the exhibition was an attempt to revise and update Robert Goldwater’s Primitivism in Modern Painting (1938) in the form of a major exhibition, an update that William Rubin argued was long overdue. Rubin had misread the mood of the times. The exhibition’s attempt to revisit the thesis that an affinity exists between primitivism and modernism was not read as affirmative and progressive, but rather as blatantly neo-colonialist. Thomas McEvilley and others wrote caustic reviews. The scandalised reception to the exhibition "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art signalled the collapse in the consensus for how to display what had previously been classed as ethnographic objects, until Jean-Hubert Martin established a tentative truce with Magiciens de la Terre in 1989. In between these two well known landmarks, Susan Vogel’s exhibition ART/artifact , held at the Centre for African Art in New York in 1988, can be understood as a curator’s response to the unexpected reception of “Primitivism” . It provides a clear example of an exhibition as an experiment, one designed to explicitly reveal the exhibition as a machine for generating ideological consensus. ART/artifact was crucial to the development of Gell’s anthropology of art, triggering his provocative argument in Vogel’s Net that the art object is, quite literally, a kind of cognitive trap. Gell’s response to ART/artifact ultimately culminated in an alternative ontology of art in Art and Agency . Around Gell’s posthumously published work there is ongoing and substantial interest (see Pinney and Thomas 2001, Rampley 2005, Osborne and Tanner 2007, Van Eck 2010, and Chua and Elliott 2013). Alfred Gell is of increasing importance to curators in their negotiation of cross cultural exhibition making. It is therefore not only interesting but also instructive to ask what debts his theory of agency owes to the history of exhibitions.
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Künste, Medien, Philosophie
UniBasel Contributors:Smith, Adam Jasper
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Publisher:University of Chicago Press
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
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Last Modified:24 Aug 2018 12:58
Deposited On:24 Aug 2018 12:58

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