Cover image for Facing Images: Medieval Japanese Art and the Problem of Modernity By Kristopher W. Kersey

Facing Images

Medieval Japanese Art and the Problem of Modernity

Kristopher W. Kersey

Coming in August

$119.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09716-9
Coming in August

320 pages
7" × 9.5"
28 color/61 b&w illustrations
2024

Refiguring Modernism

Facing Images

Medieval Japanese Art and the Problem of Modernity

Kristopher W. Kersey

Facing Images is one of the most original and intellectually demanding art-historical writings I have encountered in many years. It is a work of erudition and activism—a real effort to better the humanistic discipline of art history in ways that matter to the future.”

 

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If we want to decolonize the history of art, argues Kristopher Kersey, we must rethink our approach to the historical record. This means dispensing with Eurocentric binaries—divisions between Western and non-Western, modern and premodern—and making a commitment to artworks that challenge the perspectives we build upon them. In Facing Images, the question takes elegant and intriguing form: If the aesthetic hallmarks of “modernity” can be found in twelfth-century art, what does it really mean to be “modern”?

Kersey’s answer to this question models a new historiography. Facing Images begins by tracing the turbulent discourse surrounding the emergence of Japanese art history as a modern field. In lieu of examining canonical works from the twelfth century, Kersey foregrounds the elusive and the enigmatic in artworks little known and understudied outside Japan; the manuscripts he selects defy traditional art-historical narratives by exhibiting decidedly modern techniques, including montage, self-reference, reuse, noise, dissonance, and chronological disarray. Kersey weaves these medieval case studies together with insights from a wide range of interdisciplinary scholarship, using a methodology that will prove important for historians: Facing Images produces a history of non-Western art in which diverse and anachronic works are brought responsibly and equitably into dialogue with the present, without being subsumed under Eurocentric formalisms or false universals.

A timely intervention in the history of medieval Japanese art, art historiography, and the history of global modernism, Facing Images redefines the relationship of the “premodern” non-West to “modern” art. It will be of particular interest to scholars of medieval Japanese art and of modernism.

Facing Images is one of the most original and intellectually demanding art-historical writings I have encountered in many years. It is a work of erudition and activism—a real effort to better the humanistic discipline of art history in ways that matter to the future.”
“The revisionist angles that Facing Images opens for art history are immensely interesting and promise to reframe our understanding of the aesthetic and material dimensions of modernity. Kersey’s engagement with primary and secondary materials reveals many of the tacit assumptions embedded in the art-historical study of modernity. That intervention should be quite exciting for art historians and scholars of comparative modernisms!”

Kristopher W. Kersey is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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