Shortlist: Exhibition as Cartographic Articulation

Joan Kee, Assistant Professor, History of Art, University of Michigan
September 2013


[This Shortlist is produced in conjunction with the symposium ‘Sites of Construction: Exhibitions and the Making of Recent Art History in Asia.’ Taking place from 21 to 23 October 2013, the symposium investigates the implications of exhibitions becoming the primary sites of art historical construction in the region. Organised in four sessions and punctuated by three keynote speeches, the three-day event brings together international scholars, curators, writers, and artists to explore the multiple roles exhibitions play. The present Shortlist, prepared by Joan Kee, chair of the panel ‘Exhibition as Cartographic Articulation’ inquires into how recent exhibitions have framed nations and/or regions, and what environmental, historical or institutional factors have driven these geographic imaginings.]

If one regards exhibitions as cartographies, a key issue concerns scale and limits. What is the unit by which we measure the world and what is the justification behind its selection? By choosing particular scales – nation, city, locality, region – do we foreground certain themes and accordingly preclude others? The question resonates with particular urgency given the increasing pressure on curators and artists to both uphold and separate themselves from worldviews calibrated according to geopolitical divisions. On the one hand, the rise of theories such as relational aesthetics and network theory have foregrounded the necessity of thinking about the interconnectivity of things as itself a sustained refusal of Cold War or imperialist models of the world premised on the reification of divisions that run counter to how artists and artworks actually circulate and correspond with one another. On the other, these models continue to reverberate through the ways in which exhibitions and their participants are funded – public and private funders alike, particularly in Asia, often remain fervently attached to the artists and artworks from their own place of origin. Even in 2013, the nation remains an astoundingly powerful locus around which exhibitions certainly, but also histories, educational curricula, and institutions continue to be organised. Hence thinking about exhibitions as metaphorical cartographies extends far beyond the art world and instead demands a broad consideration of how thinkers in other disciplines wrestle with comparable questions of representation; e.g., what is ‘world history,’ ‘world cinema,’ or ‘world literature’? It also touches directly on the question of method: in choosing to address a certain part of the geopolitical world, how does this limit/open up the assumptions around which we consider the idea of a ‘world’ in the first place? As a species of information display addressed to a lay public whose raison d’etre lies in its instructive capacity, the exhibition has considerable power to shape the expectations that might then affect how this public might subsequently consider the world elsewhere.

Recommended Readings

Butler, Cornelia, et. al., Flight Patterns, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2001
Damrosch, David, What is World Literature?, University of Princeton Press, Princeton, 2003
Harvey, David, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, Verso, London, 2012
Kee, Joan, Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2013
Lewis, Martin, Karen Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1997
Masao, Miyoshi, Harry Harootunian, eds., Learning Places: The Afterlives of Area Studies, Duke University Press, Durham, 2002
Moretti, Franco, ‘Conjectures on World Literature’, New Left Review, London, January & February 2000, pp 54–68
Moxey, Keith, Visual Time: The Image in History, Duke University Press, Durham, 2013
Shiraishi, Takashi, ‘The Modern in Southeast Asia’, Asian Modernism: Diverse Development in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, Yasuko Furuichi, Kazumi Nakamoto, eds., Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2005, pp 257–261
Supangkat, Jim, ‘Multiculturalism/Multimodernism’, Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions/Tensions, Brian Wallace, ed., Asia Society Galleries, New York, 1996, pp 70–81
Wood, Christopher S., ‘On David Summers's Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Western Modernism’, Bookforum, New York, February & March 2005, pp 20