Tuesday, 02.09.2014


Alfred Gell on Art, Vol II
Adam Jasper

Bas Jan Ader, Tea Party

In the 1980s a transformation took place in the way that global art was shown and discussed. Retrospectively, this can also be seen as a period of the invention of an entirely new anthropology of art, in particular by Alfred Gell, around whose work there is a currently a resurgence of interest. The exhibition ART/artifact, held at the Centre for African Art New York in 1988, is crucial to this new history of the development of global art. It is perhaps the strongest example of an attempt to test the exhibition as a machine for generating ideological consensus. Many exhibitions claim to be ‘experiments’, but ART/artifact has a stronger claim to this status than most, as it set out to reveal the methods by which museums endowed objects with the status of being either artworks, or evidence. It also acts as the trigger for one of the most provocative and unusual cross-cultural ontologies of art ever to be devised: Alfred Gell's argument that the art object is, quite literally, a kind of cognitive trap.

Such discussions may seem arcane, but the development of what has become known as the ‘ontological turn’ in the work of Bruno Latour, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Phillippe Descola owes much to Gell’s posthumous classic Art & Agency, and encourages a closer examination of the genesis of Gell’s own ideas. The profusion of interest in anthropological ontology, in combination with the dilemmas of contemporary curating, provides dual motivation for a closer reading of early Gell, as well as the careful historicisation of his ideas.

This is the second lecture Adam Jaspers is giving about Alfred Gell. First took place in December 2013 at Corner College.

Posted by Stefan Wagner