Histories for Futures (Lisa Newby)
Dear Lisa, thank you for sharing your wonderful research with us! I was really grateful for your attention to the issue of how histories of exhibitions (and beyond a particular institution) can be a productive force for the future. I especially liked your attention to the diversity of ways in which people have engaged with the display of the Sainsburys’ collection over time – it is a critical reminder to avoid the assumption that Primitivist perceptions were singular and fully accepted across the twentieth century. I also like the idea that an increased awareness of this multiplicity of historical perspectives can ‘open up’ debate on the Sainsburys’ collections today. Can I ask, have you noticed any completely new critiques that have been added to the range that you outlined, or do contemporary critiques all have their roots in debates articulated by Fagg, Hiller, Leach, et al? Sometimes the debates seem to go around in circles to my mind! Thanks again, Claire
Hi Claire, thanks for listening (and organising!) and for your interesting comments. In answer to your question about completely new contemporary critiques and the circularity of the historical debates between Fagg, Hiller, Leach etc. - for me these two things are connected because I am interested in institutional histories, but this is of course never the whole story, so new research highlighting previously unrecorded or misinterpreted experiences of modernism in Britain is one of the most exciting aspects of contemporary critique for me as an art historian (eg Kobena Mercer's recent text about Aubrey Williams: Abstraction in Diaspora comes to mind - https://www.britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-index/issue-8/aubrey-williams ). In terms of institutional histories, I find the repetition of debate fascinating - and that the historical examples help with unpacking the different terms, issues and assumptions at stake in different historical moments. I found breaking down historical interpretations of these big terms (primitive, modern, art, anthropology, etc.) gives something more solid to work with in trying to untangle the British arts establishment's continuing obsession with primitivism in the postwar period - and its legacies in contemporary experiences. As a broader methodology I think we see a lot more of this in (some) contemporary critique which is exciting and marks a shift from the historical debates. At the same time, elsewhere the debate is becoming more polarised/narrow - making it even more important in my view to keep on talking about it! Also, coming back to the Sainsbury Centre Living Area exhibition design - I focused on histories but there is much more to say about the new critiques/interpretations that the display generates.