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Reading group 29 November 2018

Civilisations- David Olusoga


This episode of civilisations  talks about  the dawn of discovery almost 500 years ago, which brought great artistic energy alongside  peace and destruction. 

Olusoga explains that centuries earlier Africa had began trading with Portugal and the interaction had been on  a equal footing. The kings Fountain, 16th cent ,1575( below ) is a painting by an unknown artist  which shows blacks having the same status as whites, depicting is a black knight upon a horse as well as white and black slaves.

This was the 1st stage of globalisation.

The  Portuguese had encountered the  Benin bronzes and had gone to Africa to trade, they had no trouble seeing Benin as a sophisticated civilisation, its recorded in the art we see between the continents.

Fast forward 300 years and Olusoga details how they were stolen from the Nigerian town of Benin in 1897 by the British colonial army. They were placed in the British museum and the Victorians  were fascinated by the bronzes from the ‘dark continent’



On the 18th November 1519 there was a meeting between the Aztec emperor, kotez and Motzuma , Motzuma gave the gift of the double headed serpent. The Spanish melted all the Aztec gold , destroyed statues and coverted Aztecs to Catholicism.

The Aztecs were portraying life through their art just as it was being destroyed . The annual day of the dead is a combination of catholic and Mexican traditions.


The Japanese were  too robust to be colonised , they were seen as exotic and wealthy.

They saw the west as barbaric and were not impressed with the standards of European hygiene.


The Dutch traded with Japan  and introduced Dutch Glasses with Convex lenses  to artists  depicting rules of perspective, up until then Japanese art was flat.


Maruyama Okyo’s painting of Bamboo in Wind and Rain ( c1776) and cracked Ice ( Late 18thcent) are examples of cultural synthesis which show 3D perspective but at the same time they could not be more Japanese with the subject of Imperfection/permanence and Buddism. Okyo incorporated European context into his art, this synthesis between east and west was only possible between Japan and Holland.

Cracked Ice

This is such a huge area that Olusoga only touches on it briefly and the above I found interesting 

How the World Came in - Achim Hochdorfer

In 1969 Piero Manzoni blew up some balloons and exhibited them and over time they deflated. He called them 'Fiato d'artista ( Artists Breath)

Manzoni had highlighted the key problems in modern art; who owns the art? and subject versus theory in painting.

Hochdorfer talks about  the crisis in art and the two opposing viewpoints between the integrity of image and its dissolving into performance art.

This has been clear since the 1960s when  media became accessible to the masses.The way to overcome this is to 'embrace the critque as stimulas' and painting has to be more open to other forms of art and not  be so inward looking.

in the 1960s Rauscheberg also cross referenced media and started the tradition from abstraction to pop art.

Theodar Adorno argued that painting has collapsed throughout history 

, from sculpture, architecture in the baroque period to the Romantics.

Art in the 1960s was becoming more political and when Carolee Schneermann appeared with Robert morris on stage in a pose mimicking  Manets 'Olympia' ( 1863) Greenberg noted this was the start of modern painting.

Jorg Immendorffs 'Where do you stand with your art colleagues?' (1973) shows an artist in his studio painting while there is a demonstration outside and a activist is implying that the artist should leave the studio and join the protesters outside . This is direct link between expressionism and protest. 

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