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Desire Is Everywhere: Mao and France, 1966-1976, In Art, In Theory, In Situ

Date: 28 November 2012 (Wednesday)
Time: 6:40pm
Venue: Room 7.58, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus

In the 1960s, Mao’s China becomes a new territory for the imagination and a reality for the happy few, artists and intellectuals, who were offered highly controlled visits. By 1967, the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, China fever was already satirised in Jean-Luc Godard’s Les Chinoises. In post-Althusserian Paris, a critical, Mao-inspired figuration (Erro, Rancillac) confronted the structuralist materialism of the Supports-Surfaces group whose review Peinture Cahiers théoriques, with its manifestos and pictograms was close to the famous review Tel Quel. The figurative/ materialist split in the art world, (displacing the stand-off between Cold War socialistrealism and abstraction) precisely mirrored the division in Mao’s China between academic oil-painting with its cult of personality, and calligraphic and craft traditions. Artist Gérard Fromanger joined the Belgian Communist filmmaker Joris Ivens on a trip to China in the wake of the pioneering visit by the The Tel Quel group, Roland Barthes, Phillippe Sollers, Julia Kristeva and art critic Marcelin Pleynet, Michel Foucault’s text ‘Desire is everywhere’ problematised Fromanger’s trip; Jacques Lacan’s own drawings gloss the Supports-Surfaces adventure. The mirage did not last; the passion has been buried.

Speaker: Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is Professor of Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is an art historian and curator whose interests, while centering on late modernist French art and theory, extend from postwar and Cold War Europe and the USSR to contemporary global art. Her recent publications include The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations (Yale University Press, 2010), Matisse (Ediciones Poligrafico, 2009) as well as articles and essays on such prominent artists as Pierre Klossowski, Orlan, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Yves Klein.

Her current project: Art, Politics and Globalisation: France, 1900-1989, explores the interaction between France’s global exportation of Beaux-Arts and avant-garde artistic models, with the revolutionary political commitments and activities of many French artists and thinkers.