Thursday, February 10, 2011

And We Go to CAA...

It being February, it's College Art Association time again. The agony (sometimes) of choosing among sessions, and all that.
For the opening set, I was torn between a panel on Pre-Columbian art (after all, I don't know much about it, and CAA is a good opportunity to sample the less-known-to-me) and a panel on The Afterlife of Cubism. I was less interested in hearing about cubism given that I already know a fair amount about it, but last quarter I taught a course on cubism and other heavily abstracted or nonobjective movements, and it went well enough that I think I'll repeat it, so I felt this was a panel that would directly benefit my teaching.
My reaction to the lineup of papers was that it looked rather francocentric, but the first paper, by David Cottington, introduced the audience to cubism from Central and Eastern Europe, focusing on Czech and Polish cubism. As introductory papers go, it was well done, and posed some interesting questions about how we should theorize cubism in its various forms and locations. Still, it didn't really tell me much of anything new. I've read most of the English-language literature on Central and Eastern European cubism, after all, as well as a certain amount in other languages.
Papers on Gris and Léger went into much more depth, and I particularly enjoyed the exploration of Gris, but when we reached Sonia Delaunay-Terk, suddenly we were back to the introductory. At that point I began to get angry. Why is it that in a standing-room only panel on the Afterlife of Cubism, canonical artists like Gris and Léger get (naturally) the in-depth, subtle analysis while we're still on ground floor with cubism outside France and with a fairly canonical female artist like Delaunay-Terk (or Terk-Delaunay)? Delaunay-Terk is an artist whose obscurity ended thirty years ago, for heaven's sake. There should be no need to present introductory papers on her at CAA, where all of the modern specialists and a large percentage of the other attendees ought to be familiar already with everything that was said about her Wednesday. We should have gotten as in-depth a look at her work as we got at that of Gris and Léger and Miró. As for the Central and Eastern European cubists, it is true that they are not as well known as ought to be the case, but modern specialists ought to be aware by this time of at least the major names, particularly those of the Czech cubists, who are the best represented in English-language scholarship.
There was, unfortunately, time for only one audience question, but several of us did comment to David Cottington that it was time for a panel focused on the Central/Eastern European side. As my roommate commented later in the day, the art-historical literature in English is still fairly introductory and it's time to start dealing with some of the issues broached by Cottington.

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