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Histories of Japanese Art and their Global Contexts: New Directions – October 22 - 24, 2015


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Review, Proceedings, Videos and Photos



Japan in 'Global Art History'

Since the late 1990s and 2000s, a renewed interest in the notion of "world art history" (D. Summers, Real Spaces: World Art History and the Rise of Modernism, 2003; D. Carrier, A World Art History and Its Objects, 2009), and "global art history" (J. Elkins, ed. Is Art History Global?, 2007) developed. Moving beyond the EuroAmerican bias and monolithic comparative approaches in art history, a more recent objective of this trend focuses on "the flow of images" and deconstructs the center-periphery-binaries while highlighting the role of cultural mediators as well as mutual exchanges and inspirations between artists, patrons, and collectors of different geo-cultural spheres (L. Saurma-Jeltzsch, A. Eisenbeiß, eds. The Power of Things and the Flow of Cultural Transformation, 2012; T. DaCosta Kaufmann, M. North, eds. Mediating Netherlandish Art and Material Culture in Asia, 2014). While this tendency is increasingly apparent also in the histories of modern through contemporary Japanese art (A. Volk, In Pursuit of Universalism: Yorozu Tetsugoro and Japanese Modern Art, 2010; T. Tiampo, Gutai: Decentering Modernism, 2011), Japan still doesn't play the major role it deserves in discussions of possibilities -- as well as limitations -- of global art histories.

Building on the strengths of Heidelberg University's Institute of East Asian Art History as well as the Cluster of Excellence, "Asia and Europe in a Global Context," this symposium seeks to map recent trends in the discipline of art history by focusing on select arts, technologies and artistic institutions of Japan. We take the approach of focused panels, which address a range of issues from the fourteenth through the twenty-first centuries. We evade strict periodic categorizations, and avoid the fallacy of reinforcing old canons or creating new ones. Among the issues addressed are cartographic imaginations; trade with luxury commodities; the role of prints, calligraphy and paintings as media of transnational innovations; the negotiation of concepts of art histories, and problems in curating the arts of Japan in the contemporary world.

With the planned symposium, we strive to put Japan again on the map of highly dynamic cultures, which developed and continue to advance multiple forms of artistic, technological, and institutional interactions. What kinds of new "counter-narratives" could be possible by putting Japanese arts into a global context? In which ways could this global approach open up new insights and contribute to discursive differentiations? While highlighting the current and future potential of global art histories, the symposium also challenges their intricacies. With other approaches such as microhistory in mind, a globalized perspective inherently entails the dilemma of erasing particulars and becoming universalist. In light of this, we will put the pressing concern into question, how "global" globalizing art history should or could be. Furthermore, the symposium also touches upon a set of issues a transcultural engagement inevitably entails: How can a global approach in art history overcome multilayered difficulties such as institutional and political biases of the academia, language and communication problems, cultural misunderstandings etc.?

Catering towards a broadening of perspectives and methodological considerations, we discuss these critical questions with historians of art and museum curators; social, economic and literary historians, as well as scholars of religion, all covering a range of regional expertises.  

Celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Ishibashi Foundation Visiting Professorship in Japanese Art History

at Heidelberg University

The symposium highlights the academic importance of personal interactions between scholars: we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Ishibashi Foundation Visiting Professorship in Japanese Art History at Heidelberg University.

Based on the largesse of the Ishibashi Foundation in Tokyo, the Institute of East Asian Art History at Heidelberg University is able to invite historians of Japanese art from Japan, Europe, and North America twice a year to Heidelberg since 2005. The visiting scholars taught seminars and lectures, gave a public lecture, participated in symposia and workshops, and conducted fieldtrips. While offering up their latest research and methodological practices to students and scholars in Heidelberg, the visiting professors expanded their personal connections and insights within Germany and Europe.

The program was founded on the belief that intellectual liveliness thrives on personal contacts by engaging with each other's knowledge, academic concerns, and scholarly cultures. This symposium is not least one of the fruitful results of the Ishibashi Foundation visiting professorship program.

For a list of the Ishibashi Foundation visiting professors, please visit:


We are deeply grateful to the Ishibashi Foundation, without whose far-sightedness and munificence we could not have planned and realized the symposium. Additionally, we thank the generous support of the German Research Foundation (DFG), and extend our thanks to the Japanischen Kulturinstitut (The Japan Foundation), for their additional help in funding the symposium.

We also thank the Cluster of Excellence, "Asia and Europe in a Global Context," and its avatar, the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies, for supporting us administratively and for providing their facilities. Finally, we are enormously grateful for the administrative help we received from Sono Yuan Tang, Lucia Banholzer, and Annelie Ebling, and a large group of students who assist us with various tasks during the symposium.

Melanie Trede and Mio Wakita

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