The Sea is History: Art and Black Atlantic Cultures

Symposium Friday, 20.10, 11 am

The Sea is History: Art and Black Atlantic Cultures
A Symposium around the work of Frank Bowling

With:
Sonia Boyce, J. Michael Dash, Peter Doig, Ellen Gallagher, Isaac Julien, Courtney J. Martin, Steve McQueen, Mark Nash, David Scott

On June 23, 2017, Haus der Kunst opened Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi, a comprehensive survey of monumental and mid-sized paintings by the distinguished Guyanese-born, British painter Frank Bowling. Working with the idea of epic form, Mappa Mundi is an appropriate term to describe the absorptive presence of Bowling’s dramatic paintings. In his turn to abstraction in 1967, Bowling wanted to shift away from the speculative realism of the figure in order to imagine a sensorial and visceral experience of painting, not only through lived experience, but also by invoking mythic memory, absence, loss, exile, and errantry. Abstraction, therefore, became a testing ground to imbricate the pictorial surface with unsanctioned content, thus transforming the vast surfaces of the abstract works into both a formalist and agonistic space of artistic engagement.

Positioned between Bowling’s native Bartica, London, and New York, the exhibition’s germinal point reflects the diasporic and transnational concerns of an artist whose work has constantly engaged with the complex histories of the Black Atlantic and the afterlives of the Middle Passage in the forging of his artistic subjectivity, even though the critical literature around this work has often elided the meaning and importance of his philosophical and historical engagement within them.

Although born in Anglophone South America, Bowling’s art is deeply connected to, and inflected by Édouard Glissant’s notion of a “Caribbean Discourse”, namely the idea that the entire critical literature and art created within the historical complex of the Black Atlantic is an ongoing process of philosophical reflection. It is for this reason that Derek Walcott’s great poem “The Sea is History” serves as a critical aperture through which to view and locate Bowling’s monumental achievement as an artist.

To record the intensely absorbing visual and somatic drama of his paintings, while actively inviting the response of the viewer, Bowling developed a chromatic repertoire of dazzling colors and muted tones, modulated surfaces and shifting planes. Working with the idea of slow time – in unhurried, absorbent application of his preferred medium of acrylic paint– he built the paintings in subtle and contrasting layers. The slowly layered and accreted surfaces of the paintings became scenes of a type of historical recall evoking unfixed territory, floating continents, evanescent seascapes, geological landscapes, liquefied magma, and anthropocentric fields. As when first made, today these paintings remain unparalleled pictures of astonishing physical power and stunning visual drama. Rarely has the experience of painting conveyed the feeling of such plenitude, a spatial and temporal measure that places the viewer in a scene that gives the impression of being both submerged and enveloped, swept away and invaginated; of being in one’s own body and out of this world.

It may be asked: why the Black Atlantic now, in the discourse of the visual? How might the visual, through the insistent aesthetic, formal, and theoretical lens of art offer us a sense of the renewal and interest in Black Atlantic cultures and the cosmopolitan variants of critical practice that it has engendered? In recent times, artists ranging from Sonia Boyce,  Isaac Julien, John Akomfrah, and Steve McQueen to Ellen Gallagher have produced works that intervene in this diasporic critical space.

Now eighty-three years old, Bowling’s accomplishment as an artist is only beginning to fully register and, as the work of the contemporary artists mentioned above shows, make new connections. This exhibition and symposium celebrates, but also critically engages, the capacious cultural and artistic spaces in which Bowling’s ideas, art, and criticism has functioned for nearly sixty years.

 “The Sea is History: Art and the Cultures of the Black Atlantic” engages not only with Bowling’s diasporic unconscious as an emigré, transnational, and cosmopolitan artist; it seeks to map and examine how his work upended various modernist pieties about pure immanence that surrounded formalist abstraction and its criticism within late modernism. While in New York, his earlier humanist interest appeared to have dissipated into pure abstraction. However, abstraction in his work did not necessarily dissolve content, nor did it separate itself from representation. Like many black artists of his generation, Bowling was confronted with the changing allegiances between the late modernist idea of the autonomy of the artwork and the demands on individual artists as agents of social and political change.

The debates that attended the chasm between modernists and politically oriented artists pivoted around broader questions of the social emancipation of the black subject, more specifically of the black artist as a catalytic figure in the emancipatory possibilities of art in the struggle for cultural visibility. This charged environment instigated in Bowling a reconsideration of his own role as an artist. But it also awakened in him – a black artist born in South America and educated in England – the recognition of his own difference from African American political struggle.

With the inauguration of his celebrated “Map Paintings” in 1967, Bowling perceived an opportunity to complicate the narrative of black artistic universality by redirecting his critical lens to South America and the Caribbean. With this move he engendered a new discursive and critical awareness not only of the historical, but also of the specifically spatial and temporal dimension of the “Caribbean Discourse” of his painterly practice. In this radical turn the “Map Paintings” were situated at the center of the Black Atlantic as a worldly site of universal meaning and artistic invention. This self-conscious formal, and philosophical move is, in many ways, analogous to the work of West Indian and Antillean writers such as Aimé Cesaire, Derek Walcott, Wilson Harris, George Lamming, Édouard Glissant, Edward Kamau Braithwaite, and Stuart Hall, all of whom Bowling deeply admired.

The goal of this symposium, then, is to examine the intersection of the artistic, theoretical, literary, and cultural dimensions of Bowling’s practice. Over the course of the symposium, it is hoped that the invited participants, ranging from literary scholars, cultural theorists, and art historians to artists, will bring into sharp focus the ways in which the Black Atlantic continues to inform the production of art today by a new generation of artists, in conversation with Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi.

Friday, October 20, 2017
11 am - 7.30 pm

Additional thanks to ICF International Curators Forum for the support of the symposium

The symposium will be held in English

Admission: 5 €
Ticket sale starts on the 7th of September

Stretch your view


Stretch your view

Frank Bowling 

23.06.17 – 07.01.18 

Public tour / English

→ Friday, 25.08, 6:30 pm



EXHIBITION

Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi

23.06.17 – 07.01.18

The comprehensive overview presents rare and never-before exhibited large-scale paintings along with other works by the Guyanese-born British painter Frank Bowling. MORE


EXHIBITION

Hans Haacke: Gift Horse

27.04 – 20.08.17

Haus der Kunst is proud to present the exhibition of Hans Haacke's celebrated monumental sculpture Gift Horse (2015). MORE


EXHIBITION

Kiki Smith — Procession

02.02 – 03.06.18

"Procession" embraces the multifaceted practice of American artist Kiki Smith and maps its development into the present day. MORE


Publication

Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965 - Exhibition Guide

MORE


Edition

Thomas Struth

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Edition

Sarah Sze — Point to Point, 2017

MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Frank Bowling

26.07.17, 2 pm

Frank Bowling introduces us to a new sensation of space! The large format of his paintings draws us into his world of images. Can colour create a sense of space? MORE


Free First Thursday

Thursday, 07.09, 6 pm

Every 1st Thursday of the month, the entry is free of charge between 6 and 10 pm. MORE


Opening

After-Opening Party

Thursday, 14.09, 7 pm

We bid farewell to another summer – and ring in our autumn program: Haus der Kunst opens its four new exhibitions. MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Frank Bowling

Saturday, 23.09, 2 pm

Frank Bowling introduces us to a new sensation of space! The large format of his paintings draws us into his world of images. Can colour create a sense of space? MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Frank Bowling

Saturday, 28.10, 2 pm

Frank Bowling introduces us to a new sensation of space! The large format of his paintings draws us into his world of images. Can colour create a sense of space? MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Frank Bowling

Saturday, 25.11, 2 pm

Frank Bowling introduces us to a new sensation of space! The large format of his paintings draws us into his world of images. Can colour create a sense of space? MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Frank Bowling

Saturday, 23.12, 2 pm

Frank Bowling introduces us to a new sensation of space! The large format of his paintings draws us into his world of images. Can colour create a sense of space? MORE


Permanent Exhibition

Archive Gallery 2017/18

18.07.17 – 04.02.18

The focus is the summer of 1937 in Munich, when the new Haus der Deutschen Kunst opened with the first "Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung", and the vilified show "Entartete Kunst" [Degenerate Art] was presented concurrently in the gallery building in the nearby Hofgarten MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Thomas Struth

Wednesday, 23.08, 10 am

Art Lab III – Paradises: Inspired by the Thomas Struth exhibition, we create our own paradises, using materials we collect in the English Garden or find in our studio. MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Frank Bowling

Wednesday, 30.08, 10 am

Splash, drip, pour, splatter ... an experiment with colour: In Frank Bowling's paintings, there is much to discover. Shells, packaging material, finds from his studio and much more cover his pictures. MORE


Ages 8 and up / German, Ages 8 and up / German

Thomas Struth

Saturday, 02.09, 2 pm

In the exhibition, the famous artist Thomas Struth presents his own individual views of people. In the studio, you create your own novel and individual portraits: professional photographers show you how to create impressive photographs that are "more than just snapshots". MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Thomas Struth

Wednesday, 06.09, 10 am

Art Lab III – Paradises: Inspired by the Thomas Struth exhibition, we create our own paradises, using materials we collect in the English Garden or find in our studio. MORE


Workshop 6 until 12 years

Thomas Struth

Saturday, 09.09, 11 am

Art Lab IV: Your city – your street. From Düsseldorf to New York – Thomas Struth leads us around the world with his road pictures. We gather ideas in the exhibition and then become architects and urban planners in the studio. MORE


Art commission

DER ÖFFENTLICHKEIT: Sarah Sze

15.09.17 – 12.08.18

American artist Sarah Sze has designed a new installation for Haus der Kunst's Middle Hall as the fifth edition of the annual art commission DER ÖFFENTLICHKEIT ― VON DEN FREUNDEN HAUS DER KUNST. MORE