By Pedro R. Erber, author of Breaching the Frame

This guest post is published in advance of The World History Association conference in Savannah, Georgia. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s two conference themes, Art in World History and Revolutions, Rebellions, and Revolts. Check back often for new posts.

The late Hariu Ichirō, one of the “three greats” of Japanese postwar art criticism, once told me that his most resilient memory of a trip to Brazil as commissioner to the 1977 São Paulo Biennale was of a book by the Brazilian poet and art critic Ferreira Gullar. Hariu claimed to have read this book, Vanguarda e subdesenvolvimento (Avant-garde and Underdevelopment) looking up word by word in a Portuguese dictionary. Almost thirty years later, he was still able to summarize the main argument of the book, according to which the very concept of the avant-garde art contradicts the condition of supposedly peripheral cultures, condemned, as they are, to lag behind the cultural capitals of the West.

Not only in narratives of twentieth-century art but whenever we talk about world history, the old notion that Europe and North America constitute the centers from which modernity spreads centrifugally throughout the rest of the world, although much criticized, is still hard to shed. Pascale Casanova’s conception of a “world republic of letters,” structured around a capital and its peripheral dependencies, is symptomatic in this regard.

breaching the frameBreaching the Frame: The Rise of Contemporary Art in Brazil and Japan examines the emergence of avant-garde movements in two supposedly peripheral locales. In investigating the apparent paradox of avant-garde art in the periphery, it disrupts our understanding of the belated, the advanced, and the contemporary. It tells a story of the emergence of contemporary art that goes beyond the local and particular, while refraining from representing world history as a single, unified narrative.

Pedro R. Erber teaches in the Department of Romance Studies at Cornell University. He holds a Ph.D. in Asian Studies from Cornell University, M.A. in philosophy from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, and B.A. in philosophy from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. Erber is the author of Política e verdade no pensamento de Martin Heidegger and articles on intellectual history, art, literature, and aesthetics.