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How ‘Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic’ Rewrote Art History

‘The wide range of artists presented in this astonishing show was a provocation that will fuel many young curators and scholars in the coming years’

Fateh Al-Moudarres, Untitled, 1962, mixed media on canvas, 70 × 100 cm, included in ‘Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965’, 2016. Courtesy: Museum of Modern Art, Doha

Fateh Al-Moudarres, Untitled, 1962, mixed media on canvas, 70 × 100 cm, included in ‘Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965’, 2016. Courtesy: Museum of Modern Art, Doha

For art historians and curators working on the 20th century, these are exhilarating times – or, perhaps, agonizing ones. If, for decades, we have been spoon-fed a neatly organized and finely constructed history of art with Euro-American male masters as its protagonists, in recent years there has been a pressing need to re-examine the canon and rewrite art history in a more diverse and inclusive manner, under the rubrics of decolonization, globalization or plural modernities, among others. This is a daunting task that few have taken on, and none as brilliantly as Okwui Enwezor, who – working alongside Katy Siegel and Ulrich Wilmes – organized ‘Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965’ at Haus der Kunst in October 2016. The exhibition is already astonishing by numbers: less for its 350 works by 218 artists than for their origin from 65 countries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than one Euro-American colleague pedantically told me that the history presented in this rich, complex and layered exhibition ultimately ‘failed’ or ‘fell short’. By their assessment, perhaps, without a proper grand narrative to re-orient us, we would need to hold onto the status quo. Art-historical nitpicking aside, we must consider the wide range of artists presented in this astonishing show, across eight dense sections, as a provocation – a list of artists that will fuel many young curators and scholars in the coming years. Alexander Boghossian, Saloua Raouda Choucair, Sandu Darié, Uzo Egonu, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Ben Enwonwu, Marcos Grigorian, Carmen Herrera, Ernest Mancoba, Uche Okeke, Gerard Sekoto, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Francis Newton Souza, Susanne Wenger, Fahrelnissa Zeid, Charles Hossein Zenderoudi: many monographic exhibitions of these artists’ work will appear in the near future at your local art museum, if they haven’t already.

Adriano Pedrosa is artistic director of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil. 

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019
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