The Classical and the Contemporary

  • March 17-18, 2016
  • University of Queensland and The Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane

Over the past fifteen years, the category of “the contemporary” in art history has been rapidly institutionalized, embedding the scholarly engagement with art practices in the present within the established discourses of history and redefining the space of exchange between the academy and the world outside its walls: “contemporary art” is now at once a field of academic study and the art world in real time. Art historians’ interest in whether the institutional category of “the contemporary” marks a potentially troubling unmooring of their discipline from history and traditional scholarly practice seems to have been (symptomatically?) fleeting. Bringing together art historians as well as classicists, ancient historians, and artists, we aim to take up the category here under more capacious comparative conditions, as a phenomenon both specific to the global art world right now and a case study for thinking about points of engagement between academic study, especially history and philosophy, and the practice and production of art; between the study of ancient Greece and Rome and interventions in the present; between Greco-Roman antiquity and other classical traditions.

Rather than opposing “the contemporary” to history or the past tout court, we partner it with a term that’s been a less familiar companion, “the classical,” in order to explore the dynamics not of disjunction but of conjunction: not the contemporary or the classical but the contemporary and the classical. The workshop aims to occupy not just a temporal axis but also, in its conjunction with the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, a spatial axis. The idea is not for participants to be occupying all axes at all times but to create a space for unpredictable intersections and resonant affinities.

We want to ask, in part: Can these terms, classical and contemporary, be thought together? Or does bringing one into focus obscure the other? Is the classical just another way of marking a historical consciousness foreign to the state of being contemporary? Or does it suggest, rather, a strategy for eliciting untimely dimensions of the contemporary? How does the conjunction of the classical and the contemporary change when we replace the classical with the postclassical? Does joining the classical with the contemporary expose the Eurocentrism that persists into current notions of the contemporary? Or is “the classical” itself a global concept? By contrast, what happens if we think of the classical not as a homogenizing term—a common tradition or the object of a “classical” education—but as a body of material encountered locally and contingently within a present at once pluralistic and networked? How does the enactment of these questions in and around art mimic or diverge from other forms of cultural production? We also want to invite participants to enact the conjunction of the classical and the contemporary—that is, not so much to theorize, defend, or reject the partnering of these terms as to map possible practices of imbricating past and present, classical and postclassical, local and global.

The workshop is jointly supported by Postclassicisms at Princeton University (, The Queensland Art Gallery, and the University of Queensland.

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Thursday, March 17

Panel One

Richard Fletcher (The Ohio State University)
“To Criticize or to Intervene? Walead Beshty’s “Ethics” and the Contemporary Classicist”

Response: Asad Raza (Independent Artist)

Christian Blood (Yonsei University)
“Seamless Syncrisis: The Classical Receptions of Debbie Han’s “Color Graces””

Response: Rex Butler (Monash University)

Friday, March 18

Panel Two

Jane Griffith (Monash University)
“Translating Antigone”

Response: Emilio Capettini (Princeton University/University of California, Santa Barbara)

Polina Kosmadaki (Benaki Museum)
“The Past within the Present: Reconsidering Examples of Modern Practices and Contemporary Art”

Response: Erik Frederickson (Princeton University)


Panel Three

Sally Butler (University of Queensland)
“Shards of Time: Pacific Art BP to Today”

Response: Kay Gabriel (Princeton University)

Brooke Holmes (Princeton University)
“Classical and Contemporary, Chronos and Kairos”

Response: Constanze Güthenke (University of Oxford)

Coffee Break

Plenary Session