Art, Obscurity, and the Politics of Rescue

Amy Tobin, University of Cambridge
Flora Dunster, University of Sussex

Over recent years, artists little known in mainstream art histories have welcomed new attention from academics, institutions and publishers. Although long overdue, this often comes with the burden of being cast as authentic, novelty, undiscovered or hidden treasure. Value resides in obscurity overthrown, and attends not just the artist but the curator, institution or writer who is seen to be doing the ‘good work’ of rescue, or worse, discovery. While this narrative may help introduce an artist to new and larger audiences, does it indemnify the calamities of such an approach? Ariel Goldberg writes of the photographer Donna Gottschalk: ‘To frame Gottschalk as “unsung” or finally achieving “fame”... fails to admit her resistance to normative culture. The commercial art world’s appetite for “queer images” in the service of the market’s relentless feasting on the new has already led to Gottschalk being labelled as a “discovery”.’

We are interested in the material repercussions and conceptual barriers this situation presents. If support is contingent upon novelty, then how can an artist’s work or art historical research continue following first exposure? How can the condition of so-called obscurity be re-thought beyond its potential as a space outside the mainstream waiting to be mined? How does this logic of discovery intersect with Otherness, normativity, displacement and gentrification? Does it operate differently between historical and contemporary sites? How do we define obscurity? How has this designation been resisted? How can support exceed marketisation? This session includes contributions that critically engage with these circumstances from the perspective of the archive, art historical methodology and the making of the artwork itself.


Consuming Artistic Withdrawal
Neil Clements (Glasgow School of Art)

‘The Art of Our Time is Pale’: Obscuring the art of the Weimar Republic
Mary-Ann Middlekoop (University of Cambridge)

Blur, Blackness and Die Brücke
Joseph Henry (City University of New York)

What do Conspiracies Really Tell You? Jess: an artist’s artist
James Boaden (University of York)

Anti-Oedipal Filiations and the Obscure Ends of the Avant-Garde
Jenevive Nykolak (California State University)

Inspiration Archives and the Politics of Authenticity
Eleanor Roberts (University of Roehampton)



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