Partha Mitter Lecture

28 March 2019
This event has been cancelled.

Why do we Need to Decentre Modernism? Art History and Avant-Garde Art from the Periphery

A public lecture by Partha Mitter, Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Sussex.

Modernism seems to have become an inclusive global concept in our time, causing anxiety among art historians about the end of art history. At international biennales and triennales, select artists from the periphery, namely, from central and eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia, are offered as evidence that the contemporary art of the West, and the Rest of the World, now share certain common values. Rather than being universal, these values are in fact the product of the modernism of the western metropolitan centres and their special claims to universality. The roots go back to European expansion in the nineteenth century, and no study of non-western modernism can avoid the complex discourse of colonial power and authority, the tendency to consider all non-western modernisms as mere adjuncts of the dominant western modernism. In order to reimagine modernism for the 21st century we need to readjust our mindset. The lecture will suggest ways of challenging some of the favourite assumptions of art history such as the derivativeness of non-western art and offer some pointers to a non-hierarchical mode of cultural ‘border crossings’. 

Partha Mitter, (Honorary D.Lit. Courtauld Institute, London), is a Member of Wolfson College, Oxford and Honorary Research Fellow, Victoria & Albert Museum.  He has been a Junior Research Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge, Open Research Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge; Mellon Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; Member, Getty Research Institute Los Angeles; Fellow, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass, Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. He has also been Radhakrishnan Memorial Lecturer at All Souls College, Oxford. His books include Much Maligned Monsters: History of European Reactions to Indian Art, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1977; Chicago University Press 1992 (paperback); New Edition Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2013 (In November 2002, ARTNEWS chose Much Maligned Monsters as one of the influential art history books of the century); Art and Nationalism in Colonial India 1850-1922, Cambridge University Press, 1994, Indian Art, Oxford University Press, 2002; The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-Garde 1922-1947, Reaktion Books 2007, and numerous scholarly papers. At present he is working on global modern art and its discontents. He has also been working closely with the Bauhaus Foundation in Berlin and Dessau since 2009.