SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Contemporary Art and the Global

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 1

IIn the wake of such worldwide phenomena as decolonization, neoliberalism, and processes of globalization, the turn towards the “global” in art history has necessitated new approaches to the study of art around the world. Contemporary art in particular has been considered a condition of “the global,” as the map of today’s art world now includes sites once considered peripheral to the geography of the art historical canon. Today, superstar artists such as Ai Wei Wei, El Anatsui, Coco Fusco, and Danh Vo work in a diverse range of practices that have been embraced as being part of a this “global turn” in art history. This turn, however, presents challenges in critical methodologies, often necessitating historically and culturally specific readings while negotiating discursive paradigms from what has been a largely Euro-American derived body of art theory and criticism. This course will introduce students to key themes, methods, and movements in the history of contemporary art through the lens of the global, with sustained attention to the transition from modernism, the spectres of colonialism and communism, transnational and diasporic subjectivities, the role of expanding markets, and the assertion of the self and the collective. To this end, recurring questions will include how contemporary art both embraces and critiques the effects of globalization, and how contemporary art has influenced the presumption of a global(ising) art history. By using case studies that include West Africa, Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and their diasporas, this course will push students to critically question the binaries of local/global, centre/periphery, modern/primitive, East/West, and North/South


  • This Module is capped at 25 places
  • Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system. Students are advised of the timing of this process via email by the Faculty Office.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • To demonstrate broad knowledge of important movements and artists considered key to the development of contemporary art in its global breadth
  • To demonstrate an understanding of key concepts and how they apply literacy related to the terminology and methods of contemporary art history
  • To articulate the relationship between contemporary art, globalization, and the notion of “the global”
  • To apply critical understanding of key concepts and how they apply methodological analysis to contemporary art in a comparative and transnational scope
  • To demonstrate knowledge and skills applicable to art historical scholarship, curatorship, and other industry fields      


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 1 000 words literature review (worth 30%)
  • One 2 000 words curatorial text (worth 70%)

Suggested reading

  • Smith, Terry Contemporary Art: World Currents. Upper Saddle River [N.J.]: Prentice Hall, 2011.
  • Foster, Hal The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays On Postmodern Culture. Port Townsend, Wash.: Bay Press, 1983.
  • Araeen, Rasheed, Sean Cubitt, and Ziauddin Sardar. The Third Text Reader: On Art, Culture, and Theory. London: Continuum, 2002.
  • Foster, Hal The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde At the End of the Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.
  • Erjavec, Aleš, and Boris Groń≠s. Postmodernism and the Postsocialist Condition: Politicized Art Under Late Socialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
  • Dumbadze, Alexander Blair, and Suzanne Perling Hudson. Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
  • Hassan, Salah and Iftikhar Dadi, eds. Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2001.
  • Hanru, Hou, et al. How Latitudes Become Forms: Art In a Global Age. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2003.
  • Mathur, Saloni, ed. The Migrant's Time: Rethinking Art History and Diaspora. Williamstown, Mass.: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2011.
  • Harris, Jonathan Globalization and Contemporary Art. Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules