In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde: An Anthropologist Investigates the Contemporary Art Museum

University of Chicago Press
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In 2008, anthropologist Matti Bunzl was given rare access to observe the curatorial department of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. For five months, he sat with the institution’s staff, witnessing firsthand what truly goes on behind the scenes at a contemporary art museum. From fund-raising and owner loans to museum-artist relations to the immense effort involved in safely shipping sixty works from twenty-seven lenders in fourteen cities and five countries, Matti Bunzl’s In Search of a Lost Avant-Garde illustrates the inner workings of one of Chicago’s premier cultural institutions.

Bunzl’s ethnography is designed to show how a commitment to the avant-garde can come into conflict with an imperative for growth, leading to the abandonment of the new and difficult in favor of the entertaining and profitable. Jeff Koons, whose massive retrospective debuted during Bunzl's research, occupies a central place in his book and exposes the anxieties caused by such seemingly pornographic work as the infamous Made in Heaven series. Featuring cameos by other leading artists, including Liam Gillick, Jenny Holzer, Karen Kilimnik, and Tino Sehgal, the drama Bunzl narrates is palpable and entertaining and sheds an altogether new light on the contemporary art boom.
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About the author

Matti Bunzl is professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the artistic director of the Chicago Humanities Festival. He is the author of Symptoms of Modernity: Jews and Queers in Late-Twentieth-Century Vienna and Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Hatreds Old and New in Europe.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Sep 16, 2014
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Pages
128
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ISBN
9780226173955
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / Criticism & Theory
Art / General
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Worldly Provincialism introduces readers to the intellectual history that drove the emergence of German anthropology. Drawing on the most recent work on the history of the discipline, the contributors rethink the historical and cultural connections between German anthropology, colonialism, and race. By showing that German intellectual traditions differed markedly from those of Western Europe, they challenge the prevalent assumption that Europeans abroad shared a common cultural code and behaved similarly toward non-Europeans. The eloquent and well-informed essays in this volume demonstrate that early German anthropology was fueled by more than a simple colonialist drive. Rather, a wide range of intellectual history shaped the Germans' rich and multifarious interest in the cultures, religions, physiognomy, physiology, and history of non-Europeans, and gave rise to their desire to connect with the wider world.
Furthermore, this volume calls for a more nuanced understanding of Germany's standing in postcolonial studies. In contrast to the prevailing view of German imperialism as a direct precursor to Nazi atrocities, this volume proposes a key insight that goes to the heart of German historiography: There is no clear trajectory to be drawn from the complex ideologies of imperial anthropology to the race science embraced by the Nazis. Instead of relying on a nineteenth-century explanation for twentieth-century crimes, this volume ultimately illuminates German ethnology and anthropology as local phenomena, best approached in terms of their own worldly provincialism.
H. Glenn Penny is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.
Matti Bunzl Assistant Professor of Anthropology and History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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