Frans Hals Museum | De Hallen Haarlem (the Netherlands) and Museum M (Leuven, Belgium) are currently developing a research project on the notion of “transhistoricity” (or “cross-historicity”) in curatorial practice within the museum field. The conference “The transhistorical museum: objects, narratives & temporalities”, is an effort to bring together different perspectives (museological, curatorial, theoretical) on the subject of transhistoricity, in order to critically map this domain. It aspires to both trace its genealogies in existing theory and practice, and to present new ideas with regards to questions like: Can a transhistorical approach to exhibition making or collection display produce relevant new insights into the specific qualities of art objects, by manoeuvring them into unchartered contexts − historically, materially, and ontologically? What can we learn from historical artworks, when we study them through the lens of contemporary artistic production − or vice versa? How do we read art history forward into the present, and use recent practice as a vantage point from which to revise the past?
Over the course of two days (13 November 2015 in Haarlem, and 25 February 2016 in Leuven), we will examine the ways in which curatorial, institutional and artistic practice relate to the notion of transhistoricity, and discuss and challenge museological concepts like “the encyclopaedic museum” and “the Wunderkammer.” The two-day symposium will bring together an international roster of theorists, art historians, curators, and artists, from the fields of art history and philosophy. The symposium will present keynote lectures, case studies, papers and panel discussions. A publication is planned for the fall of 2016.
As Hal Foster notes, scholarly movement across different historical fields is hardly new: for example, even before the First World War, Wilhelm Worringer connected German Expressionism to the Northern Gothic tradition; between the wars, Meyer Schapiro moved easily between abstract painting and Romanesque sculpture; and after the Second World War, Leo Steinberg wrote with equal insight on 20th-century innovators like Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, and Old Masters like Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Velázquez. This traffic, as Foster explains, is busier than ever before, with art historians such as Hans Belting, Horst Bredekamp and Georges Didi-Huberman at work on various subjects from the premodern to the postmodern.
Since the turn of this century, we have moreover witnessed a significant expanse in the field of transhistorical exhibition practice: a diverse range of curatorial efforts in which objects and artefacts from various periods and art historical and cultural contexts are combined in display, in order to question and expand traditional museological notions like chronology, context, and category. Such experiments in transcending art historical boundaries can potentially result in both fresh insights into the workings of our entrenched historical presumptions, and provide a space to reassess interpretations of individual objects in relation to their contexts and narratives.