From Modernism to Postmodernism and Beyond: The Center Will Not Hold

Course content



In 1920, W.B. Yeats’s landmark modernist poem “The Second Coming” contained a prophetic vision: Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the worldSurely the Second Coming is at hand.” In 2020 and in light of the dramatic changes in the way we think about modernism as expressed by concepts such as multiple, liquid, and even planetary, the prophecy seems fulfilled, but in ways we are still grappling with. The course traces back the birth, death, and resurrection of twentieth-century art and culture through one of its most enduring and problematic paradigms: the long shadow cast by Western modernism, and its relationship with the subsequent challenges of the avant-garde, postmodernism, and contemporary practices. By engaging ideological and theoretical debates about time, identity, gender, race, colonialism, globalism, political activism, and the role of the art institution from Napoleon III through Trump, we will interrogate the frameworks that have shaped our understanding of the period from a Western perspective but in a global context.

The course is speculative and includes special attention to the Danish situation, shifting between larger cultural developments, case studies, theory, and criticism so that each class session works in dialogue with the others as we zoom in, expand out, and reflect dialogically on the topic at hand. Traditional lectures, group work, and peer exchange will be integrated with research in practice, on the ground and in real time, by visiting and debating exhibitions, installations, research projects, and controversies taking place now (especially those involving the work of departmental faculty) to bring a contemporary frame of reference to the art historical themes of the course. As students develop an understanding of the foundational and current theoretical issues, they will actively contribute to those issues by: developing a guiding research question early on in collaboration with the teacher; formulating their own critical position; presenting their ideas for peer feedback; expanding those ideas through shorter writing assignments and group work, and producing a final written portfolio.


Participation and Attendance


It is imperative that students complete the required reading before and attend every class, because their portfolio involves active participation in group work, peer review, and student presentations. Peer feedback is an integral to the course and students are encouraged to share their own work actively so that they can train and reflect on organization, structuring, and generosity in their own practice as art historians. Through their participation in the course, students will become proficient in organizing, structuring, and implementing a collaborative process that integrates research actively.


Learning Outcomes and Exam Format: Students enrolled in the KA Art History and Visual Culture Studieordning 2019


See the Art and Culture Research component of the 2019 Kandidatuddannelsen i kunsthistorie and immediately below.

Exam Bibliography (Studieordning 2019)

900 standard pages: 600 chosen by the teacher to be read over the sequence of the course and 300 chosen individually by the student for their exam portfolio.

Exam Format (Studieordning 2019)

16-20 standard-page portfolio built from of a number of shorter written assignments completed during the semester. Students produce written reading responses as well as three written exercises over the semester that inform the portfolio: 1) A speculative position paper of 1 page that describes an issue or topic of interest; 2) after presentation of the idea for peer feedback, a 2-3 page synopsis of a specific problem related to the position paper that also lists 2-3 relevant sources; 3) an essay of 3-5 pages applying the problem to a current installation, exhibition, or article published within the last three years. The final portfolio takes the feedback given on these assignments into account to produce a 16-20-page assignment that addresses an issue or problem while integrating the relevant literature. Dates for submission deadlines and presentations will be given at the start of the semester.


Learning Outcomes and Exam Format: Other students


Depending on the studieordning, there will be slightly different requirements for the examination format. Regardless of which studieordning the student is enrolled in, they will still produce the written reading responses as well as the three written exercises over the semester: (see under Exam Format above).

General Reference

  • Hal Foster & Rosalind Krauss, Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004).
  • Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds., Art in Theory 1815-1900 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).
  • Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds., Art in Theory 1900-2000 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).
  • Marc James Léger, ed. The Idea of the Avant-Garde and What It Means Today (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014).
  • Lawrence Cahoone, ed., From Modernism to Postmodernism. An Anthology (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003).

The Center Will Not Hold: Modernism, Postmodernism, and Beyond
Spring 2020
Thursdays 9:00-13:00, Room 21.1.47
Teacher: Kerry Greaves

Type of assessment
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 84
  • Preparation
  • 279
  • Lectures
  • 56
  • Guidance
  • 1
  • English
  • 420