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  • Writer's pictureNelson Ferreira

Laying Open Hidden Layers of Art History: My Podcast Interview Experience

I recently had the chance to be interviewed for "Considering Art Podcast". Bob Chaundy and I focused on art history, and it was an exhilarating experience. As someone passionate about the field, it felt great to share my thoughts, especially on some of the more controversial aspects that often get overlooked. We covered a lot of ground, but two main topics stood out: the dismantling of classical knowledge in the arts and the need to rewrite art history to recognize overlooked movements and artists. Listen to the podcast here.

One of the galleries that showcased Les Arts incohérents: Galerie Vivienne, 4 rue des Petits-Champs, Paris.

Challenging the Canon: The Dismantling of Classical Knowledge

We kicked off the discussion with the current trend of questioning and, at times, deconstructing the established narratives that have dominated art history for centuries. While it's essential to modernize and diversify the field, I'm concerned that in doing so, we already lost touch with the foundational principles and techniques that have shaped art as we know it.

Classical knowledge in the arts isn't just about technical skills and aesthetic principles. It also involves understanding the historical context, cultural significance, and philosophical underpinnings of various art movements. Preserving this knowledge is crucial, especially because we are not expanding our horizons to include a wider range of voices and perspectives. Instead, I think we tend to adopt a 'Pseudo-Vanguardist Morality Play' - going to great lengths to even rewrite History.

Rewriting Art History: The Vanguardism of The Incoherents

A particularly provocative point I raised was the need to rewrite art history to properly acknowledge the contributions of lesser-known 19th-century artists and movements. I argued that The Incoherents (Les Incohérents), a group of French artists active in the late 19th century, were far more avant-garde than the 20th-century Dadaists, who often get credited with pioneering radical, anti-establishment art. Read more here.

Active in the 1880s, The Incoherents were known for their satirical, absurd, and irreverent approach to art. They predated Dada by several decades, yet their contributions are frequently overshadowed in traditional art history narratives. This group organized exhibitions featuring humorous and nonsensical works, challenging the art establishment with a spirit of mockery and playful defiance. Artists such as Jules Lévy, Paul Bilhaud, Émile Cohl, Sapeck (Eugène Bataille) really broke the boundaries of art.For example, they even exhibited monochrome abstract paintings and invisible sculptures These works prefigured the iconoclasm and conceptual provocations that would later be celebrated in Dadaist circles.

The October 1882 show was attended by two thousand people, including Manet, Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Richard Wagner. The October 1883 show took place at Galerie Vivienne, 4 rue des Petits-Champs, and more than 20,000 visitors took part over a month.

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