Art, Obscurity, and the Politics of Rescue

Session Convenors:

Amy Tobin (University of Cambridge / Kettle’s Yard)

Flora Dunster (University of Sussex)

Please email your paper proposal to the session convenors using the Paper Proposal Form


Over recent years artists little known in mainstream art histories have welcomed new attention from academics, institutions and publishers. Although long overdue, this often comes with the burden of being cast as novelty, undiscovered, or hidden treasure. Value resides in obscurity overthrown, and attends not just to the artist but to the curator, institution or writer who is seen to be doing the ‘good work’ of rescue, or worse, discovery. While this narrative may help introduce an artist to new and larger audiences, does it indemnify the calamities of such an approach? For instance, as Ariel Goldberg writes of the photographer Donna Gottschalk: ‘To frame Gottschalk as ‘unsung’ or finally achieving ‘fame’… fails to admit her resistance to normative culture. The commercial art world’s appetite for ‘queer images’ in the service of the market’s relentless feasting on the new has already led to Gottschalk being labelled as a ‘discovery’.’

We are interested in the material repercussions and conceptual barriers this situation presents. If support is contingent on novelty than how can an artist’s work or art historical research continue following first exposure? How can the condition of so-called obscurity be re-thought beyond its potential as a space outside the mainstream waiting to be mined? How does this logic of discovery intersect with Otherness, normativity, displacement and gentrification? Does it operate differently between historical and contemporary sites? How do we define obscurity? How has this designation been resisted? How can support exceed marketisation? This panel seeks contributions that critically engage with these circumstances, and welcomes feminist, queer, indigenous, and post-colonial perspectives. We are open to papers considering material from any period.

Submit a paper

Please email your paper proposals direct to the session convenors above, using the Paper Proposal Form

You need to provide a title and abstract (250 words maximum) for a 25-minute paper (unless otherwise specified), your name and institutional affiliation (if any).

Please make sure the title is concise and reflects the contents of the paper because the title is what appears online, in social media and in the printed programme.

You should receive an acknowledgement receipt of your submission within two weeks from the session convenors.

Deadline for submissions: Monday 21 October 2019


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