Events

Modern Art’s Roots in Imperial Plunder

Curator, theorist, and historian Ariella Azoulay questions the connections between the origins of modern art and the stolen artifacts lining the walls of European museums.

Cedrick Tamasala, "How My Grandfather Survived" (2015), chocolate, from the exhibition <em>Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League)</em> at SculptureCenter (2017) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Cedrick Tamasala, “How My Grandfather Survived” (2015), chocolate, from the exhibition Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League) at SculptureCenter (2017) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Movements and campaigns to repatriate the artifacts of countries pillaged by European colonial powers have become increasingly common. However — beyond the oft-cited influence of African sculpture on Parisian Cubists and Surrealists — comparatively little attention has been given to the ways that plundered patrimony has shaped the aesthetics and legacies of modern art. On Monday, February 26, scholar and Brown University professor Ariella Azoulay will discuss modernism’s problematic provenance in “Plunder: The Origins of Modern Art,” a lecture at the Cooper Union co-organized by New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies.

The talk will build in part on the focus of Azouly’s recent research and forthcoming book: the concept of “potential history,” a kind of empowering way of framing and understanding the past and shaping the future. “Potential history […] is at one and the same time an effort to create new conditions both for the appearance of things and for our appearance as its narrators, as the ones who can — at any given moment — intervene in the order of things that constituent violence has created as their natural order,” she wrote in 2013. “I call this move history that exposes past potential and the potential created by this exposure.” How, then, can we further expose the imperialist legacy of modernism and what are the potentials opened up by that exposure? Find out on Monday.

When: Monday, February 26, 7:30–9 pm
Where: Cooper Union (41 Cooper Square, Greenwich Village, Manhattan)

More info at Cooper Union.

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