Reciprocal Impact? The Renaissance in Modern and Contemporary Art #3

10 December 2021, 3:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Katie Anania, University of Nebraska
Andrew Leach, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Robert Brennan, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Andrea Bubenik, The University of Queensland
Ksenia Radchenko, University of Sydney
Anthony White, University of Melbourne

This series of three panels explores the relationship between Renaissance, modern, and contemporary art. What uses have modern and contemporary artists made of the Renaissance, and how has Renaissance scholarship responded to developments in the art of its own time? The urgency of these questions lies in the central position that the Renaissance has played in traditional European narratives of modernity. To what extent have artistic encounters with the Renaissance been shaped by competing visions of modernity itself – capitalist, fascist, communist, colonial, indigenous, or otherwise? How have artists confronted the geographical, racial, and gendered exclusions on which standard narratives of the Renaissance have often been based? How might the work of these artists help scholars rewrite the history of early modernity today? How, in turn, might alternative understandings of early modern history help to reorient the art of recent times?

PAPER #1
Agony or Ecstasy? Forging a Northern Renaissance

PRESENTERS
Andrea Bubenik, The University of Queensland

Modern art historiography demarcated the north from the south, a contrast that is still operational in how early modern art is studied today. But how did artists contribute (or not) to characterisations of a distinctly northern Renaissance? The importance of Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528) for Expressionism has long been recognised, his tortured figures and wounded appendages a touchstone for artists such as Max Beckman, Otto Dix, and Emil Nolde. An important moment for his reception was the exhibition of the Isenheim Altarpiece at Munich's Alte Pinakothek in 1917. During this wartime exhibition the painting became an object of pilgrimage for artists and soldiers alike. A very different reception occurred when Albrecht Dürer’s Feast of the Rosegarlands was exhibited in Nuremberg in 1928 and celebrated as a stoic synthesis of northern naturalism and Venetian colore. These contrasting histories of reception highlight nuances and tensions within the then evolving characterisation of a ‘northern renaissance’. The later exaltation of Dürer over Grünewald resulted in a different kind of historiography, in which the north – not to mention the east and beyond – was viewed as peripheral. As shown by the reciprocal impact between Grünewald and German Expressionism, artistic reception tells a different story.

PAPER #2
Experimental Museum of Contemporary Art in Russia of the 1920s-1930s: Between Renaissance and Socialist Realism

PRESENTER
Ksenia Radchenko, University of Sydney

In his article The Struggle Against the Museum; or The Display of Art in Totalitarian Space, Boris Groys argues that the futuristic anti-museum agenda of Russian avant-gardists informed the cultural totalitarianism of the 1930s. According to Groys, avant-garde artists wanted to debunk museums as obsolete institutions focusing on the contemplation of ephemeral beauty instead of creating a utilitarian practical life. For them, as Groys explains, “new museum would have become the continuation of proletarian life.” The new socialist and communist life should have been “art in itself.” However, Groys does not present a complete picture of the avant-gardist attitude towards museums. In this essay, I will show that not only the Russian avant-garde artistic practice was informed and inspired by Renaissance masters, but also the old masters’ idea of artistic practice as an institution became the impetus for the development of new art museums combining research, pedagogy, and art appreciation for the broad public. I will pay attention to the emergence of the unique and innovative Moscow Museum of Painterly Culture that was created in 1919 and occupied the former Shchukin Mansion and its relation to the Renaissance discourse.

PAPER #3
Renascences: Italian Abstract Art in the 1930s and 1940s

PRESENTER
Anthony White, University of Melbourne

In 1934, several Italian artists, including Atanasio Soldati and Fausto Melotti, began taking inspiration from works of geometric abstraction produced in France, Germany, and Russia. At a time when officials in Mussolini’s fascist government were emphasising national artistic traditions, this opening toward modernist developments taking place beyond Italy’s boundaries was a radical move. At the same time, the Italian abstract artists identified their works with the geometric rigour and primordial sense of mystery that they perceived in the work of the early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca. In this way, they connected abstract art to an indigenous artistic heritage that was in the process of being reinterpreted in a modern key by the Italian art historians Lionello Venturi and Roberto Longhi. Through an analysis of the abstract painting and sculpture produced in Italy during the 1930s and 1940s, this paper will show the profound connections that were made between modernist and Renaissance art in a period the fascists described as undergoing cultural rebirth. Abstract artists were drawn to the work of early Renaissance masters whom they understood as the “primitive within”: both of their time, and out of time.

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Biographies

Katie Anania, University of Nebraska

Katie Anania is an assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She writes about histories of graphic communication, particularly drawing, and the ways that linear and graphic expression have engaged throughout modernity with anxieties about the body’s place in the world generally. She is currently working on two book projects: one examining the shifting position of drawing in American studio practice in the long 1960s, and the other on hunger and depletion in 1970s queer and feminist art.


Andrew Leach, University of Sydney

Andrew Leach is Professor of Architecture at the University of Sydney. Among his books are What is Architectural History?, Rome (both Polity), Manfredo Tafuri (A&S books) and Crisis on Crisis (Standpunkte). He is editor-in-chief of Architectural Theory Review.


Robert Brennan, University of Sydney

Robert Brennan is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Art History at the University of Sydney. He received a PhD in art history in 2016 from New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, and subsequently held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz. His first book, titled Painting as a Modern Art in Early Renaissance Italy, was published by Harvey Miller in 2019. His current book project looks at sixteenth-century Italian art, exploring how transcultural exchanges of artifacts, words, and concepts restructured Italian notions of "art" itself in this period.


Andrea Bubenik, The University of Queensland

Andrea Bubenik is a Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Queensland. Her work focuses on early modern art, historiography, and theories of reception. Her books include The Persistence of Melancholia in Art and Culture (edited, 2019), Perspectives on the art of Wenceslaus Hollar (co-edited, 2016), and Reframing Albrecht Dürer: The Appropriation of Art (2012). With the ARC Centre of Excellence for The History of the Emotions, Andrea curated Ecstasy: Baroque and Beyond (2017) and Five Centuries of Melancholia (2014). Andrea is interested in the afterlives and migrations of images, and dialogues between historical and contemporary art.


Ksenia Radchenko, University of Sydney

Ksenia Radchenko received her Ph.D. in Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture from the University of Southern California in 2019, with a dissertation titled Dances of Death: Visual and Verbal Transformations of the Body in Russian Modernism. At USC she taught courses on Russian Art and Russian culture. Her research interests include the relationships between Italian Renaissance and Russian modernism, Old Testament and Russian Avant-garde, and Avant-garde artistic pedagogy and museology. Currently, she is studying towards an MA in Art Curating from the University of Sydney and writing a book provisionally titled Sustainable Death: Organic Realm of Russian Modernism.


Anthony White, University of Melbourne

Anthony White’s research focuses on the history of modern and contemporary art. His current project, Recentring Australian Art, investigates artists who have been overlooked by mainstream art history. He is the author of Italian Modern Art in the Age of Fascism (2020); with Grace McQuilten, of Art as Enterprise: Social and Economic Engagement in Contemporary Art (2016); and Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch (2011). He has written for Grey Room, October, Third Text, and Artforum. He curated the exhibitions Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles (National Gallery of Australia, 2002) and The Art of Making Sense (The Dax Centre, 2008).