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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mapping of the essay by Ankita Das

Ankita Das
CIA 2 MEL 132
15 July 2010

By- Hal Foster

1. Representation of two scenes:
• Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon is a piece that can be categorized as one falling between modernist and pre-modernist category of painting, it acts as a bridge between the two
• The painting can be said to represent an encounter between two scenes – one, the actually depicted one in the painting being that of the prostitutes in a brothel in Bordello and second, the projected one inspired from Picasso’s visit to the collection of tribal artifacts in the museum in Trocadero, which is evident from the use of the masks in the painting.

2. Tribal Object
• The painting presents the conflict between the threat to male superiority and its defences. The women being projected as the ‘other’ or the subjects to this male superiority.
• The women are using the masks (or more generally the tribal objects) as a weapon in their defence against this male superiority and the writer is of the view that at some level Picasso must have been known the use of tribal objects to ward of evil and that concept gets translated here in the context of male domination over women and more particularly the prostitutes in this painting.
• He further elaborates that point by quoting Picasso on how he initially conceptualized this painting. During his visit to Trocadero it came to Picasso that all the art forms there were in some sense weapons, objects used to ward of evil, and evil is simplistically put anything that was unknown. Picasso sought to ascribe that power of warding off evil to the prostitutes in Bordello through his painting.

3. Mediating Primitivism
• The writer regards this painting as a primary scene of primitivism, demonstrating the relationship between narcissism and aggressivity and that the same primitive notions are applicable to the West.

4. Modern tribal affinity
• In a recent exhibition, the painting was presented together with tribal masks showing the close connection and inspiration of the painting to these tribal objects.
• One argument presented is that primitive modernism is not inspired per se by objects but brought on by the autonomous force of these objects.

5. Decontextualization
• The author questions whether the museum was entirely successful in decontextualizing the art works in the exhibition
• He seems to suggest that in a way the show further reinforced the imperialist underpinnings in the art works presented and merely substituted one for the other, without producing any real counter discourse.

6. Positivist terms
• He says that encounter of tribal and modern was presented in purely objective terms.
• The two were separated into two categories such that one could only reflect the other and the only conclusion proposed was that there is an affinity between the two.

7. Oceanic
• The affinities suggested in the exhibition was mostly morphological even when there could be other possible affinities. This was done through abstraction on both set of objects.One example of this presented by the author is a painted Oceanic wood figure placed together with a painting by Kenneth Noland, which makes a point about universality.

8. Other Affinities
• The author is of the opinion that the exhibition failed to explore other possible associations between the two set of objects, to question what might arise when tribal work is read into modern art or when modern values are imposed upon the tribal objects.
• The author suggests that in both cases above, the result would be such that different orders of tribal culture would be made to resemble a corresponding western form.

9. The Problem with Defining Primitivism
• The author is skeptical that we have failed to properly understand primitivism and seem to have presented it in wholly western terms.

10. Pre-existing Code
• The tribal objects were used as a means to bring forth the affinity between primitivism and modern art in the exhibition. He further suggests that this was already a pre-existing code from the time of the African Negro Art show in 1935.

11. Extension of the code
• This particular show only extended the pre-existing code, by decoding the tribal elements into existing modern terms that resemble it.

12. Western Universality
• The author writes that there are three possible affinities – resemblance, kinship and spiritual / chemical attraction. Through the exhibition, the resemblances were used to suggest kinship, which the author regards as nothing more than an optical illusion. Through this primitivism is once again subordinated under western universality.

13. Mis-readings
• The author criticizes the exhibition as having reinforced some of the misreadings of tribal art and having created new ones though it had sought out to rectify such mistakes.
The author also suggests that the affinities and resemblances appears to be manufactured and super-imposed. He further questions whether the objects presented could qualify as art at all, since many are historical artifacts.

14. Museum – a reflection of the outside world?
But he questions how can this modern / tribal be properly represented and concludes that perhaps for a museum to contextualize beyond the pre-dominant view of the existing society is not possible.

15. Transgressive Model of Modernism
In the primitivism exhibition, the author glimpses shifts from MoMA’s typical modernist model, but then disregards it as only a fake attempt and concludes that MoMA retains its official model of modern art.

16. Conflict within MOMA in its story of art
The show reflects the conflict in the attempts of MoMA of trying to change its modernist model at the same time being blocked by its own premises. What emerges is a pretentious and ineffective attempt at revising its own story of art.

17. Western Construction of Primitive
The Eurocentric construction of primitive has always been the ‘other’ – something that is the opposite of what the West is. In a way primitive helps define Western identity.

18. Two concepts of Primitivism
• Philosophically, there are two primitivisms – one that is rational and the other an evil one.
• With the former, the primitive seeks enlightenment and becomes part of the West.

19. Western man and Primitivism – equal partners?
• The author argues that through the enlightenment of the ‘other’ differences between the other and the western man will disappear. But he questions whether despite this, the western man and the primitive other can be regarded as equal partners in the march of reason.

20. Western Conquest
• The author does not completely agree with the argument that modern artistic primitivism goes hand in hand with scientific knowledge.
• The author states that the invention of the primitive other is a form western conquest, therefore to agree with the above argument would be to make the relationship between the two overly simplistic.

21. Imperialism in Art
• He analogizes modern art primitivism to a military conquest by the west. He states that through primitivism, imperialism in art is sought to be disguised and giving the false notion that the problem has been resolved.

22. West defined by the ‘Other’
• The identity of the west is defined by the other, the author asks what would happen if the other disappears. He answers it by saying that there may be two possibilities, one the primitive as an outside or opposition is threatened; two, it reappears within the western culture as its critique.

23. Modern problem?
• The author suggests that the logical extension of this would be that primitivism is a modern problem, but he is of the view that such an opinion renders it a non-problem.

24. First Encounter with Primitivism
The first encounter with primitivism is regarded as 1492, primarily due to two reasons – discovery of America and also the time of renaissance.

25. Change in the Concept of the Other
In the present context, he argues that the concept of the other has become obsolete.

26. The Other Remains
The author is of the view that despite changes in present context, the ‘other’ remains. The concept of the ‘other’ has now changed from a geographic entity, it can be manifested in other ways, such as opposition to Western ideas such as pretences of sovereignty, supremacy etc.


Foster,Hal. “The ‘Primitive’ Unconscious of Modern Art.”, Art in Modern Culture:
An Anthology of Critical Texts .Eds .Francis Franscina and Jonathan Harris.
London/New York :Phaidon .1992 .print.

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