Becoming PastHistory in Contemporary Art

Becoming PastHistory in Contemporary Art

Jane Blocker

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780816696970

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press


In 2009, Hal Foster initiated a questionnaire to prominent art historians, critics, and curators about the problem of the contemporary in which he stated that there is “a sense that, in its very heterogeneity, much present practice seems to float free of historical determination, conceptual definition, and critical judgment.” The responses he gleaned are just part of the recent scholarship in art and art history focused on understanding the nature and limits of the contemporary, and the significant debate about the problem of the contemporary for history. This book takes as its premise that the contemporary, as much as we may want to consider it otherwise, is being made history as it happens. The important question is not whether there is (or should be) contemporary art history, but how. And “how” is the primary concern of this book, the key argument of which is that we cannot answer the demands of the contemporary by using out-dated research practices, received theories of history, and linear temporal models. Nor can we proceed without rethinking our practices of writing. Acknowledging a significant trend in current art practice, in which artists have engaged with historical subject matter, methods, and questions, it asks how the work of the artist implicates and interrogates that of the critic or historian. It asks how to emulate the artist-historian, how to do history differently, and thus examines and attempts to deploy unorthodox historical methodologies that are witnessed in and distilled from the work of a number of contemporary artists.