Visual Time: The Image in History

Overview


Visual Time offers a rare consideration of the idea of time in art history. Non-Western art histories currently have an unprecedented prominence in the discipline. To what extent are their artistic narratives commensurate with those told about Western art? Does time run at the same speed in all places? Keith Moxey argues that the discipline of art history has been too attached to interpreting works of art based on a teleological categorization—demonstrating how each work influences the next as part of a linear ...
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Visual Time: The Image in History

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Overview


Visual Time offers a rare consideration of the idea of time in art history. Non-Western art histories currently have an unprecedented prominence in the discipline. To what extent are their artistic narratives commensurate with those told about Western art? Does time run at the same speed in all places? Keith Moxey argues that the discipline of art history has been too attached to interpreting works of art based on a teleological categorization—demonstrating how each work influences the next as part of a linear sequence—which he sees as tied to Western notions of modernity. In contrast, he emphasizes how the experience of viewing art creates its own aesthetic time, where the viewer is entranced by the work itself rather than what it represents about the historical moment when it was created. Moxey discusses the art, and writing about the art, of modern and contemporary artists, such as Gerard Sekoto, Thomas Demand, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Cindy Sherman, as well as the sixteenth-century figures Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald, and Hans Holbein. In the process, he addresses the phenomenological turn in the study of the image, its application to the understanding of particular artists, the ways verisimilitude eludes time in both the past and the present, and the role of time in nationalist accounts of the past.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The time is out of joint for art history and image studies more generally. Keith Moxey's Visual Time makes this traditional curse into a blessing for scholars who want to rethink the nature of historical temporality and free it from the monotony of homogeneous empty time. Moxey shows that history (and no doubt memory as well) is deeply anachronistic in structure, and that images and works of art play a central role in revealing the multiple, disjunctive temporalities we inhabit, not only as art historians, but as subjects of human experience. Moxey's book will be required reading for anyone interested in thinking about images of and in time."—W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Seeing Through Race and editor of the journal Critical Inquiry

"This is a beautiful and thoughtful book on the fundamental meanings of time in art historical writing. Keith Moxey is open to the radical possibility that the encounter with the artwork, as distinct from the interpretation of that work, might not so much reveal the object's historical time as mute it, bringing the viewer and the art into a domain of plenary experience, and an awareness of historical blindness, that are only distantly and problematically compatible with the traditional interests of the discipline of art history."—James Elkins, author of What Photography Is

W. J. T. Mitchell

"The time is out of joint for art history and image studies more generally. Keith Moxey's Visual Time makes this traditional curse into a blessing for scholars who want to rethink the nature of historical temporality and free it from the monotony of homogeneous empty time. Moxey shows that history (and no doubt memory as well) are deeply anachronistic in structure, and that images and works of art play a central role in revealing the multiple, disjunctive temporalities we inhabit, not only as art historians, but as subjects of human experience. Moxey's book will be required reading for anyone interested in thinking about images of and in time."
James Elkins

"This is a beautiful and thoughtful book on the fundamental meanings of time in art historical writing. Keith Moxey is open to the radical possibility that the encounter with the artwork, as distinct from the interpretation of that work, might not so much reveal the object's historical time as mute it, bringing the viewer and the art into a domain of plenary experience, and an awareness of historical blindness, that are only distantly and problematically compatible with the traditional interests of the discipline of art history."
Art in America - SeungJung Kim

“Every page is graced with an erudite yet refreshingly accessible writing style—a rare feat these days—which makes the reader feel excessively smart.  . . . If you are not afraid to come away with more questions than you started with, this book definitely belongs within easy reach on your shelf. It is a book to anyone interested in the philosophy of time, the nature of art, and the ever-growing contemporary discourses of history and art history.”
CAA Reviews - Amy Knight Powell

“Though it is a far-reaching critique of the kind of historicism that contents itself with studying the past without regard for the present, Keith Moxey’s Visual Time: The Image in History is not an attempt to liberate us from history. On the contrary, it is a critique of historicism in the name of history, and it never loses sight of the urgent issues that have fueled historicism, especially in the last century.”
Comitatus - James Fishburne

“Due to the breadth and variety of content and theory, the book should have wide-ranging application for art historians working in a number of geographic regions and time periods, and it should benefit those working in theory as well as object-based scholarship. . . . Moxey’s work is another valuable foray into a rich field, and it has the potential to reshape art historical discourse.”
Sixteenth Century Journal - Joyce de Vries

"This book, with its sophisticated language and discussion of methodological and historiographical insights, will be key reading for graduate students and scholars across art history and related fields. While the case studies pertain largely to sixteenth-century northern European works, Moxey's thoughtful and provocative consideration of issues related to time, history, periodization, style, aesthetics, and presence in the interpretation of objects from the past will appeal to all who are grappling with these theoretical issues." 
Renaissance Quarterly - Christopher P. Heuer

 "Affect and historicism—dueling presences within any art experience—animate Keith Moxey’s superb new collection of essays on Northern Renaissance painting."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822353690
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 6/17/2013
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 576,132
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith Moxey is Barbara Novak Professor of Art History at Barnard College and Columbia University. He is the author of many books, including The Practice of Persuasion: Paradox and Power in Art History; The Practice of Theory: Poststructuralism, Cultural Politics, and Art History; and Peasants, Warriors, and Wives: Popular Imagery in the Reformation.

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Read an Excerpt

VISUAL TIME

THE IMAGE IN HISTORY


By KEITH MOXEY

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2013 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5354-6


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

IS MODERNITY MULTIPLE?


At a given moment, then, we are confronted with numbers of events which, because of their location in different areas, are simultaneous only in a formal sense. Indeed, the nature of each of these events cannot properly be defined unless we take the position into account in its particular sequence. The shaped times of the diverse areas overshadow the uniform flow of time.

SIEGFRIED KRACAUER, HISTORY: THE LAST THINGS BEFORE THE LAST


Modernity and its artistic partner, modernism, have always been tied to the star of temporal progress. The time of modernity is teleological, and its home lies in the West. In this sense, multiple modernities is an oxymoron, a logical contradiction. Consider, for example, the exhibition entitled The Short Century, curated by Okwui Enwezor, that took place in New York, among other venues, in 2001–2. The show presented a survey of a number of African movements during the second half of the twentieth century not previously included in standard histories of modernism: spin-offs of European and American art forms, as well as survivals of indigenous traditions dating from precolonial times. Fascinating as these artistic initiatives and works may be, the claim that they deserve scholarly attention and aesthetic appreciation constitutes a challenge to the history of modernism. The triumphal progression from one avant-garde movement to another, leading ever-more reductively toward greater and greater abstraction, traced by its dominant narrative, simply does not translate into these circumstances. African art typically functions as one of the global shadows that sets off the brilliance attributed to the Euro-American trajectory as it moves from cubism to abstract expressionism and beyond—a necessary backdrop for the performance of those appearing on the world's stage. Only now, after the modernist story has petered out and its internal contradictions have been exposed, has a space for the artistic traditions of other cultures become visible.

The work of the South African Gerard Sekoto offers a compelling example of the art that it is now possible to "see." Two Friends (fig. 1.1), painted in Johannesburg in 1941 before Sekoto's departure for Paris in 1948, represents two women seen from the rear, chatting, as they walk along arm-in-arm. Once upon a time our appreciation of the image might have been determined by where and when it was created. The fact that it was made in Johannesburg rather than Paris would have determined our response. The recognition of its style as Post-Impressionist, inspired perhaps by the work of Vincent van Gogh or Paul Gauguin rather than by French Surrealist artists or American Abstract Expressionists, who were the African artist's contemporaries, made it less worthy of attention. The painting's failure to participate in modernism's temporal progression, its irrelevance to the work of the avant-gardes, assigned it to the margins, if not the dustbin of history. So the question is: What is the time of this work? If the work resists incorporation into the dominant story of midcentury Euro-American modernism, then where does it belong? Olu Oguibe argues that Sekoto's painting, and the work of other African artists who attempted to incorporate aspects of European art rather than the traditional native art forms deemed more authentic, constitutes its own form of nationalism. Sekoto and others like him, Oguibe claims, saw in the apartheid's desire to deny African artists access to a modernist pictorial rhetoric by refusing them entry to art school a means of essentializing the differences between colonizers and colonized. Their refusal to participate in this system of exclusion is demonstrated in their art.

The role of Sekoto's painting in my story, however, is not to argue the aesthetic value of his work so much as to illustrate the limitations of an ideology: modernism's narrative can operate only by excluding him. This observation will, needless to say, neither change the way we view Sekoto nor affect the continuing dominance of that story. Sekoto's absence from art's "history" depends on the economic, political, and ideological powers that determine the relations between cultures. If art history's narrative of choice is still the modernist one, it is because of forces that have little to do with the work itself or even our response to it. My point is that Sekoto belongs to another temporality. His time is not synchronous with that of metropolitan modernism and never will be. If modernism's time is multiple—if its time flows at different speeds in different situations, if art history has one paradigm by which to understand developments in one context and another to cope with those taking place in others and such paradigms are not hierarchically organized—only then can his story be told. What then might be the relation between Sekoto's absence from the dominant history of art of the twentieth century and his presence in the history of South African art? Are these narratives forever distinct and incommensurable, or can one be translated into the other? Sekoto was a contemporary of Jackson Pollock, yet these artists' circumstances could not have been more different. If Sekoto worked in the period known as modernity but did not belong to it because he was prevented from participating in one of its characteristic features, artistic modernism, how do we negotiate the time that separates Sekoto and Pollock?

The example offered by the Short Century exhibition, and others like it, allows us to think anew about issues of time and their relation to art. Art history has long restricted the study of so-called modern and contemporary art to the nations of Western Europe and the United States, rather than to those parts of the globe "discovered" during the age of colonialism. Applied to the artifacts of non-European civilizations as a means of accounting for their extraordinary appeal and presence by those who first encountered them, the concept of art afforded a means by which the incommensurate character of subaltern cultures might be related to the epistemological assumptions of those that were dominant—even if the lack of congruence was often striking. Regardless of the inadequacy of the process of translation, the protean nature of art renders intelligible, and thus accessible, artifacts that are radically alien to the European worldview. A visit to the Louvre, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art for that matter, may begin with the sculptures of Greece and Rome, or European Renaissance and Baroque paintings in which the eighteenth-century notion of aesthetics finds its roots, but sooner or later (usually later), the visitor wanders into areas that display Oceanic door lintels and canoe paddles. Such objects, never originally conceived of as "art," both legitimate and find legitimation in their new surroundings.

Despite the malleability of the concept of art, the study of objects produced in geographical locations beyond the European pale has usually been confined to those created before the moment of contact. Romantic fascination with the "other" tended to freeze European interest in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cultural artifacts can be ascribed the status of art only so long as they remain traditional, that is, distinctly non-European. Ironically enough, an invisible apartheid dictates that anything manifesting the cultural exchange resulting from the colonial enterprise—anything that betrays an awareness of the intervention of the colonizers in the lives of the colonized—is to be avoided as derivative and second-rate. The distinction between the colonizers and the colonized, usually marked by race, serves to reinforce the sense of superiority of the white adventurers, whose economic and military might ruled the world. Such attitudes were further confirmed by the philosophical ideas of the late eighteenth century, the age of the so-called Enlightenment, when an epistemological system based on ideas of rigorous objectivity guaranteed an insatiable desire to know (and thus control) the world and everything in it. Political and economic transformations such as the French and Industrial Revolutions enhanced the notion that Europeans had arrived at the end of time—that they looked back on the history of the world as a prelude to their own supremacy.

The gradual process of decolonization that accelerated after the Second World War has not disabused the former colonial cultures of their sense of superiority. Histories of modern and contemporary art sometimes continue to be told as if the only cultural artifacts of the twentieth century that matter are those produced in Europe and the United States. Artistic modernism and Euro-American art of the twentieth century have been indelibly marked by such a teleological thrust. Each aesthetic movement, heralded by a group identified by the military metaphor of the avant-garde, sought to supersede its predecessor in the name of intellectual or spiritual progress.

Modernity, along with artistic modernism, is a distinctly Western affair. Even if the colonized globe took on many of the economic and industrial, not to mention the political and cultural, trappings of the colonizers, there remains little doubt as to where the center of artistic life shines brightest. There may indeed have been movements such as Latin American conceptualism that coincided with similar ones that took place in Europe and the United States, for example, but they are often characterized as provincial echoes, pale shadows of their counterparts at the center of temporal power. Despite the fact that some are distinct, even entirely different from their European equivalents, they are not considered as important as those that transpired in the centers of economic and political power.

This background is, of course, well known. I rehearse it here only as an introduction to a particular argument about the nature of time. If modernity, defined as a set of institutions and technological processes that shape the economic and political life of many of the world's peoples, has become a global aspect of every human experience, does that mean that it has the same significance everywhere? Is the time of modernity the same in London and Johannesburg? Both the United Kingdom and South Africa are nation-states with democratic forms of political organization, and to greater or lesser extent both are industrialized nations, but does modernity's clock run at the same speed and have the same density in the two places? Is modernity multiple?

The modernist movement in the arts has been decisively challenged and no longer serves as the motivation for most contemporary art. Beginning in the last quarter of the twentieth century, the narrative of progress ascribed to artistic production by influential critics such as Clement Greenberg has been called into question. No longer is it possible to distinguish art from nonart on the basis of whether a work seems to encourage the movement of the spirit in history, or in Greenberg's case, whether the medium in which it materialized is more or less aware of its essential nature. Artists and critics have tired of the idea that an avant-garde can define art's future. Arthur Danto, following Hegel, argues, for example, that art has come to an end only in order to become philosophy. The impossibility of distinguishing Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes from the commercial product they replicate means that works of art can no longer be distinguished from other objects. When modernism draws its last breath, it is not succeeded by another period, but all time becomes "post-historical."

Is this then contemporaneity? Does the end of modernism coincide with the end of time? Whether or not we agree with Danto that artistic modernism has ended for the reasons he cites, there is general critical consensus that artistic production is no longer motivated by its relation to time. Does this unanimity then mean that history is over, or, rather, that we need histories that acknowledge that time moves at multiple speeds in different locations? Absurd though it seems at first blush, the idea that history might be finished has certain compelling attractions. Decoupling art from time, the aesthetic from the temporal, is often cited as one of the factors that has allowed non-Euro-American art to conquer the contemporary international art scene. If artistic movements cannot be guaranteed by a privileged relation to time, then how can their works be accepted as art rather than as mere objects? The context offered by this confusion, one in which aesthetic theories struggle with one another and none is acknowledged as all-encompassing, has favored experimentation of the most varied kind. In the urge, however, to celebrate the arrival of non-Euro-American art forms in the world's art markets, biennials, art fairs, and exhibitions centers (Kunsthalle), have time differentials disappeared? In welcoming the inspiration provided by the imaginations of so many new contemporary artists, must we believe that they all operate on the same temporal footing? Has the idea of time, so inextricably identified with progress, and therefore the property of the world powers responsible for industrialization and colonialization, been genuinely democratized? Can works of art appearing in places not previously identified with the privileged home of time now be treated more seriously? If time has no privileged location, do all its forms contend for equal attention?

If time no longer bears a necessary relation to art, is art consequently unmarked by its passage through it? Is it impossible to determine the age of art, to identify the subjects and styles that dominate particular periods? Is the time of the metropolitan centers of political and economic power really no different from those on the periphery? The fate of art in a "post-historical" moment, of course, is part of a much larger debate about the nature of history itself. The discussion as to what, if anything, comes after modernism continues unabated. Is its demise to be identified with the dawn of postmodernism, or does time stretch on without identity?

In the present context, it would be disingenuous not to recognize the existence of a dominant time historically related to that imposed under colonialism—a system whose homogenizing ambitions are still implicit in the designation Greenwich Mean Time as the longitude from which the world's time zones are established. If the times that were once suppressed in the interest of modernism's evolutionary narrative can now enter the spotlight, it cannot be on the basis of history's abolition but rather on an understanding that history and power are inextricably entwined. The term multiple contemporaneities draws attention to the unequal speeds at which time unfolds in different locations. Their speed, however, is assessed by the dominant cultures of the day. The cessation of modernism's linear time provides us with an opportunity to look around the edges of the canonical accounts of the recent past, as well as of the present. The challenge is not to dissolve historical periods so much as to create new ones that reflect the ever-changing nature of geographical (very often national) power relations. The effort to distinguish among moments in time, as well as the desire to conflate them, still dramatizes the necessity to make meaning of their relation to one another.

Sekoto's fate in falling out of the canon of modernist artists of the twentieth century has resonance for the fate of artists currently working in cultures other than those of Europe and the United States. His painting operates in two different conceptual worlds. In one, Sekoto is a cipher, a latecomer, someone who worked in antiquated artistic styles long after the so-called progressive artists of the day had gone on to other things. In the other, he daringly sought to appropriate the art of the colonial culture (itself provincial) of which he was a part in order to participate in a system that denied him admittance on the basis of his color. Whether or not contemporaneity is understood as a form of time or its absence, whether contemporaneity follows modernism as a period, or whether it is the end of time, the work of non-Euro-American artists will forever register on different levels. It is only when the kaleidoscope of values that informs the powerful markets of the artistic capitals of Western culture can accommodate those working on the periphery that it is possible for their work to move from one context to another. Only when non-Euro-American works manifest interests that parallel those working at the center, or more interestingly, when the periphery is a source of inspiration, that "crossovers" are possible.

If contemporaneity is conceived as a temporal framework in which many nonsynchronous forms of time jostle against one another, only the art of those times and places that corresponds with dominant ideological paradigms will be privileged. Such are the mechanisms that ensure the hierarchization of the events (histories) of certain locations above others. Unlike modernity, contemporaneity is both multiple and not multiple at the same time. Dominant cultures export and disseminate hierarchized temporal structures by means of the media of mass persuasion that run the gamut of newspapers, movies, television, and the Internet. The time that matters, that on which the artistic canon depends, has always favored the cultures of the powerful.

It may appear a contradiction to argue both that the decoupling of time from the idea of art in the context of the death of modernism has resulted in aesthetic confusion and that the dominant centers of artistic production still dictate what counts as contemporary in contemporary art. Even if debate and disagreement currently characterize aesthetic thinking in the Euro-American context, this predicament by no means affects the decisive role of such cultures in the art market. If, within the context of increasing homogenization, market forces also serve to ensure a degree of variety in the artistic production of different cultures, does this mean that economic and cultural globalization work together in the promotion of original forms of aesthetic experience? The answer must be a resounding "no!" The imbalance of power that informs the relations between the industrial and postindustrial powers of the West and those of the rest of the world ensures that, even if creativity and imagination are the byproducts of cultural interaction, non-Western artistic production is rarely considered equal to that produced in Europe and the United States. In an incisive analysis of the encounter between the dominant art world of the West and contemporary artistic production in Africa, Salah Hassan writes:

It must, however, be noted that the recent attentiveness by Western institutions to modern African art, and non-Western representation in general, has not, in any profound manner, altered the sense of inferiority with which those institutions have viewed the cultural production of those conveniently labelled "other." Nor does such attention represent a drastic change in Western institutional hegemonic strategies which continue to view, with deep distrust, cultural practices generated outside its immediate spheres of influence.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from VISUAL TIME by KEITH MOXEY. Copyright © 2013 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

List of Illustrations....................     ix     

Acknowledgments....................     xi     

Introduction....................     1     

PART I TIME....................          

1. Is Modernity Multiple?....................     11     

2. Do We Still Need a Renaissance?....................     23     

3. Contemporaneity's Heterochronicity....................     37     

PART II HISTORY....................          

4. Visual Studies and the Iconic Turn....................     53     

5. Bruegel's Crows....................     77     

6. Mimesis and Iconoclasm....................     107     

7. Impossible Distance....................     139     

Conclusion....................     173     

Bibliography....................     177     

Index....................     199     


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