This research group is pursuing the goal of studying from a comparative perspective the significance of artistic objects and practices as factors and indicators in processes of cultural transformation and interlinking. The basic comparative structure of this research alliance is oriented along a diachronic axis that covers a period of study between the thirteenth century and the late twentieth century. Is it focused on the space of events that has been described, from a geopolitical perspective, as the period in which the modern world system emerged, connecting local relationships with distant events and effects in a historically unprecedented intensification. On a synchronic level, it analyzes cross-cultural processes of interlinking that affect and transform local/regional forms of understanding and artistic traditions in a specific way in each case. By broadening the research focuses to include dynamics of artistic transformation in Africa, Europe, North and South America, and East Asia, this research group aims to summarize competences of regional scholarship there are language-specific and integrate comparative methods of neighboring disciplines into an integrative research of artistic practices that offers conceptual alternatives to an ensemble of partial histories of art that are limited to an era or cultural region. The central intellectual interests of the research group can be sketched in terms of the following questions:
The work plan is subdivided into the following three project areas:
The overlapping and mutual interpenetration of expanding religious movements can scarcely be adequately grasped without a detailed component of the analysis of representation. In the process, the (religious) mediation of the transcendental in the work of art and as the work of art becomes the criterion for distinguishing that, on one hand, promotes denominational distinctions within the orbis christianus and, on the other hand, has an enduring influence on the frame of cultural references between monotheistic religions in Mediterranean region. The causal interrelation between denominational schism and the intensification of missionary activities further multiplied the dogmatic attributions of meaning to the image into the material interweaving of heterogeneous visual cultures. Two projects with different referential regions (Italy, the Near East, India; Spain and Central and South America) will analyze from the perspective of entangled histories and histoire croisée reciprocal processes of the resemanticization of sacred representations that cannot be grasped with the dominant binary analytical schemas (global/local; appropriation/dissociation). Taking up more recent approaches to actor-network theory from cultural sociology, both projects will show as focusing on transnational forms of organization of the communities warders active in missionary work will prove to be useful in demonstrating that a “transcultural” comparative approach to visual signification is already implicit in their reflections on the use of artworks.
When analyzing processes of artistic and cultural exchange, the paradigm of modern nation-states, which is also implicitly based on even more recent approaches to studies of cultural transfer, proves to be a large obstacle. But the methodological instruments for historical scholarship—and not just of Western provenance—were also for a long time focused on demonstrating local or regional schools and a static mapping of distinct artistic landscapes. Adopting categories from social anthropology that established figurations of the “in-between” and of “passage” proves to be fruitful when analyzing cultural mobility and with it corresponding aesthetic practices. The research projects brought together into this project area see themselves as, on one hand, building blocks for history of artists’ travels in a transcultural perspective, which can only succeed if the conflicts in the understanding of art caused by mobility within supposedly homogeneous visual cultures can be integrated into the study. On the other hand, zones of cultural contact such as port cities and the concept of “litoral societies” have turned out to be productive “transnational” standards for analyzing in a comparative perspective the merging of local and global horizons of the imagination and corresponding visual forms that is driven by the solidification of mercantile relationships.
The critical historicizing of the discourse of modernism and its inherent claim to universality can be regarded as one of the most urgent tasks of art history with a transcultural perspective. Not only in Europe and North America, since the late nineteenth century it has been increasingly difficult to interpret contemporary artistic trends as a continuation of supposedly autochthonic cultural traditions. On the one hand, art historical narratives reinforce the identity politics of nation-states or sanction imperial/civilizing hegemonic discourses. On the other hand, opening up the discipline to ethnological and anthropological questions can lead for the first time to a conceptualization of the term “world art.” For the projects within this area, therefore, the “saddle period” around 1900 offers a point of departure for analysis from which we can pursue both the decentering of the modernist paradigm and the case-specific analysis of works in relation to differentiations between forms of discourse in the intersection between art history, theory, and criticism in the postcolonial situation after 1960. Expanding the focus of the study to include comparison of Asia, South America, and the Atlantic triangle also proves to be a heuristic corrective to essentialist centrisms when developing of theories of contemporary art.