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Future of Art-History: Concluding on Images A844 Ex. 3.4.3

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Future of Art-History: Concluding on Images A844 Ex. 3.4.3

Read the given extracts from Georges Didi-Huberman, Confronting Images(2005 [1990]).

Do the conclusions reached by the October group and the contemporary image-theorists mean that academic art history, as currently practised, is obsolete?

My first thought was that I think they do, and that that is without looking for even more telling evidence of the complicity of art-history with a reactionary tendency to value an unholy trinity identified by Didi-Huberman as knowledge, spectacle and money. Held together like that knowledge tends to take the form of the latter, a rationale for what is immediately apparent about the nature of success and learning – the rewards it yields to successful individuals who embrace the identity it offers in the academe or art-institutions.

The section of Didi-Huberman on the tone of certainty in art-history (2) is particularly telling and reminiscent of the most off-putting symptoms of connoisseurship and expert-knowledge, the immediately cashable forms of adjudging quality, authenticity and value as if these issues were reducible to an absolute and bounded judgement.  Surely he is right to see in any approach to art a tone that reveals that at least some of the issues involved are difficult to grasp. They are complex in that their means are emergent, never simply revealed. His answer is to embrace openness not closure.

Discussion from course

To an extent, they clearly do. But you should also note the caution expressed by Didi-Huberman that: ‘Only buzzword mavens and fashion mongers could hold that, in this domain, anything is over’ (Didi-Huberman, 2005 [1990], p. xx). He says there is a need to ‘engage in an archaeology’ (Didi-Huberman, 2005 [1990], p. xx) of art history in order to progress beyond its institutionally-imposed limitations. He is suspicious of that academic rationalism which believes everything susceptible to explanation by the word (the sovereignty of the logos). Instead he seeks to develop an approach to images – including art – which is open precisely to the ways in which they escape from verbal reason and logic.

I want to conclude by looking at two contemporary works of art, both of which function as powerful images.


Conduct an online search for images of:

Romuald Hazoumè, La Bouche du Roi, 1997–2005

Ivan Plusch, Process of Passing, 2012/2014

·       Give a brief analytic description of what you can see.

·       Then offer an account of what they might be ‘about’.

They differ of course. Plusch shows a setting that is almost deconstructed and the conventions of its space disrupted. A red carpet rises off a floor that has been archaeologically dug or otherwise refeatured in ways that don’t recall its past uses. The idea of passing as death and the loss of meaning of visual signs such that they look fore mergent meaning.


In the Bouche, waste products assemble into form but looked at more nearly are both traditional waste (oil cans) or historic artefacts or copies thereof.


I would suppose hat he are both about a process of finding meaning where a process of assembly is evident but its meaning is not. This though he processes by which meaning is drained from components is, at least, plain to see.

 Discussion from course

In the Hazoumè, you can see black plastic containers arranged on the floor.

In the Plusch, you can see a red carpet ascending into the proscenium arch of an apparently empty theatre.

Hazoumè is using black plastic containers to make an image of the eighteenth-century slave ship Brookes.

Plusch is using the trappings of official iconography to make a kind of memento mori of Soviet culture.

Both works seem to operate on a terrain expanded beyond a narrow sense of the aesthetic as such, drawing complex questions of geography and history within the ambit of contemporary art. They use the dimension of the visual to produce condensed yet somehow open-ended images. Ideally these may draw the viewer into a felt need to research their own historical-geographical relationship to what it is they are seeing. They seem to achieve this in ways that are distinct from the way in which a documentary film, or a book, might do. They don’t really stand on their own, but nonetheless there is a sense in which they make something of their own out of much broader materials.

To this extent, they seem compatible with the expanded remit for iconology propounded by Mitchell, Belting, Latour and Didi-Huberman.

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