Tate Encounters

Andrew Dewdney, David Dibosa and Victoria Walsh interview art historian Leon Wainwright (18 October 2010)

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Dr Leon Wainwright was Reader in History of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK until May 2011 and is now based in the History of Art department at The Open University. He is a graduate of the School of World Art Studies and Museology (University of East Anglia), and holds postgraduate and research degrees in Archaeology and the History of Art from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London). His work engages with the theoretical, curatorial and educational aspects of art history as a discipline, and a radical line of research frameworks and approaches. His current research focuses on the ways in which artists and curators in the Anglophone Caribbean and its diaspora contribute to the formation of transnational community, or seek alternative ways to understand themselves and their art practices. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Third Text (Taylor and Francis) and has held visiting fellowships at the University of California, Berkeley and the Yale Center for British Art. He is the author of ‘Timed Out: Art and the Transnational Caribbean’ (Manchester University Press, 2011) and co-editor, with Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, of the forthcoming volume ‘Art in Theory: An Anthology of Changing Ideas’ (Wiley Blackwell, 2012). His research interests include the study of modern and contemporary art in the Caribbean and its diaspora in Europe; the period of the end of Empire; and transatlantic networks and movements. The relationship between art history and other disciplines, including anthropology, art practice, museum curating, cultural policy studies, arts organising and the public understanding of art.

Questions for Leon Wainwright:

A: Art History

  1. What led you into the discipline of Art History and at what point and why did you take issue with the state of art history?
  2. How do you see art history intellectually reconfigured by the advent of visual cultural studies and more broadly interdisciplinarity?
  3. How has your work on diasporas changed the way you think about European Art history? What do you mean or understand by a global art history?
  4. You comment on what one could call the 'space-time work of art history'. For instance, you suggest that difference is treated as having an ambiguous spatio-temporarility. (Is this because of its coincidence with postmodernism?)
  5. Could you expand on your idea that art history has a productive role to play in the public understanding of art?

B: Institutions and Audiences

  1. Your work touches on the role of art institutions in the shaping of discourses of otherness and difference. How have you understood this in relation to a notion of British art?
  2. In your thinking about institutional practices and their effects, what role did you assign to art audiences?
  3. You critique what you call the ' mythopoetics of free markets and free-flowing, multinational capital'. How can we give an account of contemporary migration and the impact it has in terms on our concepts of visuality?

C: Difference

  1. How do you understand difference? What does it do to Diversity? In the remnants of multiculturalism, is it possible to recover difference decoupled from diversity?
  2. How do we complicate the topography of mainstream and difference? (You have elaborated a number of concerns centred around the notion of the mainstream - mainstream audience, mainstream art history - can you help us analyse this term 'mainstream'? What do you see as the best way of developing such an analysis?)
  3. What impact has globalisation had on re-shaping your thinking around difference?
  4. One could say that, with the decline of New Labour, the period of the institutional technologization of otherness has come to a close. What next?