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Edward S. Cooke Jr.: Global Objects. Toward a Connected Art History, Princeton / Oxford: Princeton University Press 2022, 336 S., 215 Farb-Abb., ISBN 978-0-691-18472-2, USD 37,00
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Rezension von:
Dawn Odell
Art History department, Lewis & Clark College
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Anna K. Grasskamp
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Dawn Odell: Rezension von: Edward S. Cooke Jr.: Global Objects. Toward a Connected Art History, Princeton / Oxford: Princeton University Press 2022, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 2 [15.02.2024], URL:

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Edward S. Cooke Jr.: Global Objects

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Edward Cooke's Global Objects: Toward a Connected Art History is a manifesto, a call to action, that proposes a new way forward for the study of art. In this book, the author urges historians to shift their focus from the kinds of materials that have long held a privileged place in Eurocentric artistic hierarchies (for example, oil paintings) and turn instead toward "objects," a complex term that is unpacked at various points in the text. Expanding the subjects of our discipline to include works previously excluded from the art historical canon is an important first step, but this effort is insufficient, the book argues, without new object-driven methodologies, which will show us a way forward, not only in interpreting previously ignored objects, such as earthenware cooking pots, but also canonical works of art, such as Renaissance oil paintings. For Edward Cooke, an object-centered methodology, what he calls the study of objects "from the inside out," also opens new avenues for tracing the global interconnectedness of art works and the ways that the objects themselves, the makers who created them, and the meanings they hold, move and change. As a manifesto, the book argues for what should be done and why this work is important, rather than demonstrating, with case studies or detailed analyses, what such an approach would look like in practice. Specialists will read this book for inspiration and for its presentation of a thought-provoking array of objects that are rarely discussed collectively. For readers who have encountered only traditional forms of "fine" art, including many undergraduate students, this book provides a much-needed introduction to the principles of material literacy and an eye-opening encounter with a new art world: objects.

Three themes - making, movement, and meaning - structure this "how to" guide for an object-driven art history. The book begins with an investigation of materials - ceramic, fiber, metal, and wood - and moves from "inside" the objects (the components of their bodies) outward, through a discussion of fabrication, to a consideration of form, surface, and ornament. Throughout, but especially in its early chapters, the book juxtaposes works of art from vastly different times and places, for example pairing a nineteenth-century pewter teapot from the east coast of the United States with a twelfth-century copper alloy ewer from present-day Herat, Afghanistan. For scholars accustomed to drilling into the artistic production of a specific location or period of time, the comparison of objects from such disparate temporal and geographic spaces may be startling. But these opening chapters effectively differentiate Global Objects from more traditional approaches to art history. These juxtapositions also enable readers to make connections between works of art that are rarely considered together, by showing that what they share is not a physical or temporal point of origin but a culture of making. This method, referred to as "horizontal" rather than "vertical" in the text, aims to decenter Europe as the nexus of art production. It also offers a corrective to "cross-cultural" approaches to art history, which often reinforce colonized/colonizer, east/west binaries and essentialize cultures beyond Europe by tying them to particular media (the author's example is ink painting standing for "Chinese art"). Rather than thinking in terms of geographically or temporally bounded media and the unidirectional movements of artistic influence between metropole and periphery, Global Objects advocates for the study of objects as dynamic agents of interchange that cross, entangle, and call into question the limits of regional histories.

Ultimately, Global Objects wants to change art historical concepts of knowledge and artistic value to overturn the entrenched prioritization of cerebral over manual work and of vision over tactility. At many points the text argues for the intelligence of making. "Conceptualizing an object is the transformational process by which a craftsperson draws from experience and observation a structural, technical, and decorative solution to the question of creation. It is a form of cerebral problem solving." (55) In other sections, the connection between cognition, manual skill, and sensory facility is extended beyond makers to argue for the objects themselves as active, generative presences, capable of "sparking ideas" among those who wear, hold, drink from, sit on, and study them. It is perhaps right that, for specialists, much of the information in this book that touches on their individual objects of study will not be new, for the book is self-consciously not a model of close analysis but, instead, an attempt to foster an object-based practice. In this effort, the author has amassed and digested an enormous quantity of secondary scholarship to bring an astonishingly wide diversity of works into conversation with one another and the book is illustrated with over 200 color photographs. As the author himself notes, however, despite the global reach of the topic, almost all of the scholarship upon which the book is based comprises English language sources. But this is a work explicitly written in the hope that others will answer its call and expand the project begun in Global Objects to encompass scholarship well beyond European- and North American-based authors.

In his acknowledgements, the author explains that Global Objects emerged from his experiences designing and teaching Yale University's new introductory art history courses, which were created in an effort to dismantle the Eurocentric focus of older courses. Those origins have resulted in a book that is engagingly written, accessible to non-specialists, and which should appeal to undergraduate students. The book includes an informative glossary and is also careful to define terms and theoretical concepts throughout the text, including "gift," "agency," "social lives," "relationality," and "thing theory." In isolated places, however, terms that are very much under debate today, including "hybrid," "translation," and "exotic," appear with little discussion or framing. Overall, however, as an introduction to material literacy, as a manifesto for a more inclusive art historical methodology, and above all, as a moving investigation of the power of objects to teach us, Global Objects succeeds beautifully in its aims.

Dawn Odell