Creating a place for peripheries has been one of the main issues of a global approach to art as it has developed over the past twenty years. In the legacy of postcolonial studies in particular, a global approach encourages revisiting a story whose margins have been too long forgotten or disregarded and devalued. Studies on non-Western regions have thus, since the 1990s, grown remarkably, especially in Central European and South American art. This renewal also leads to renewed disputes over museum collections.
Some of the problems raised by the global project have yet to be resolved. Can a global approach integrate artistic peripheries into the canons of a history still far too oriented towards the universalist and linear model that particularly crystallizes the notion of modernism ? If, since the publication of the work Provincialism (1962) by Sir Kenneth Clark, the history of art has been engaged in a reflection on the spatial dimensions of artistic production, and has thus called upon concepts of ’center’ and ’periphery’, these two notions are still being associated with a hierarchical conception of artistic production. This tendency—to designate artistic "peripheries” as places where artistic production is less decisive for art history than in the presumed centers for artistic activity—remains strong to this day.
How do we overcome these prejudices, themselves linked to a historiography strongly determined by the canons of Western modernism focused first on Italy, then Paris, and finally New York ? Indeed, if only it were a question of embracing forgotten areas research, the historian would never leave this hierarchical presupposition. Retaining a canon in which the periphery would be measured as the focal point would further exile and subject the peripheries to a cartoonish diffusion model. However, by refusing to follow issues of progress or to compare them to the canon, peripheries are all the more excluded by forcing them to be places of "specificity" unrelated to the history of the so-called centers. Generally speaking, the very idea of a global history, where all would have a place, does not come out of Western conceptual models (James Elkins, Is Art History Global ?). Rather, this notion has been brought about by Western institutions—universities or museums—which always seem to win at the game of globalization which even the contemporary art market was able to absorb. Finally, the valorization of non-Western areas elicits the production of new peripheries : it has created a destructive Western model, more overbearing than what one would have thought because it drowns the stories and productions of already outlying areas in an even stronger oversight : specialists of Western or, in particular, Eastern European art cannot find their place in the discipline.
Some, favoring the idea of conflict, have attempted to show to what extent artistic "peripheries" have been and are still active and selective. Others, sometimes radically, call into question the use of the same ’center’ and ’periphery ’ categories. They value particularly complex approaches that can characterized as mixed (Serge Gruszinski), geographical (Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann), circulatory (Michel Espagne), horizontal (Piotr Piotrowski) or connected (Romain Bertrand) ; these approaches, however, involve a multilingualism, mobility and access to a multiplicity of sources enjoyed by few historians. The problem is all the more punishing for museums whose collections have been established according to the dominant diffusion model. Is it possible to construct a history of art which takes into account gradients of activity, information and circulation ? A truly "horizontal" history that, despite the problems created by different sources, languages, cultural traditions, is still able to make room for lesser-known productions of universal heritage ?
The Artl@s team (www.artlas.ens.fr) invites researchers to gather and develop a removed and well-thought out approach to the question of the peripheries in art history.