CONF: Art, History, Exhibitions: Re-thinking Relationships – A Session of the UK Association for Art History Annual Conference (University of Bristol, 3-5 April 2024)

In 1981, American artist and writer Mary Kelly defiantly underlined how exhibitions have become primary tools for disseminating the history of art. Since the 1990s, following the establishment of curatorial studies, the proliferation of global biennials and the growing status of the curator, art historians have increasingly acknowledged this. In recent years the study of historical exhibitions has therefore gained traction as a legitimate avenue for art historical inquiry. This has developed in tandem with the practice of re-staging important historical exhibitions in museums. As Saloni Mathur posed in 2019, exhibitions are a crucial space where the canon can be diversified and questioned. At the same time, a canonical list of exhibitions is often repeated (e.g. Jean Hubert Martin’s Magiciens de la terre, Gerardo Mosquera’s The Third Habana Biennial and Rasheed Araeen’s The Other Story; all from 1989), leaving open the question of selection: why do exhibitions gain notoriety; why are others forgotten?

Many transhistorical and transnational group shows, biennials or collective experiments transgress the main two pillars of art history: linear chronology and nation-statist boundaries. Thus, this condition raises another question: What does it mean to state that art history is shaped by exhibitions in our current moment? We invite scholars of art, curators, museum professionals, and artists to speculate on the future directions of the discipline in its relationship to curatorial practices in past and present. Reflections on current historiographical challenges to the discipline from decolonial, feminist and queer angles and attention to heterogeneous curatorial experiments are expressly welcome.

Session Convenors:
Mehmet Berkay Sulek, University of Amsterdam
Julia Alting, University of Groningen


Angela Bartholomew, VU Amsterdam
Opening Salto: The Exhibition Opening as Artistic Medium

Bridget Hardiman, University of Saint Andrews
Photographing Surrealist Spaces: Denise Bellon and the 1938 and 1947 International Surrealist Exhibitions

Analays Alvarez Hernandez, Université de Montréal
Domestic Exhibitions: Disrupting the Art History Canon from Havana, Once Again

Oliver O’Donnell, Courtauld Institute of Art
Decolonizing the Armory Show of European Modernism: 1913 to today

Camila Maroja, Brandeis University
Ka’a Pûera: Comments on the incorporation of indigenous art into Brazilian art history

Wei Sun, Heidelberg University / Ca’Foscari University of Venice
“Le Japon des Avant-Gardes: 1910–1970” and the Discursive Formation of Japanese Avant-Gardes in European Museums

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