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PRISME Research Programme: Contemporary Society (1948-2003) through the Prism of Art Criticism


PRISME  Research Programme: Contemporary Society (1948-2003) through the Prism of Art Criticism

With the support of Fondation de France, Région Bretagne, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme en Bretagne and Université Rennes 2.

Location: Archives de la critique d’art, Rennes (France)

Dates : Sept 2015 – Sept 2018


This research programme is closely connected to the history of AICA and its international ramifications, because it focuses on the large amount (ca. 45 linear metres) of records from the inception of AICA in 1948 until 2003, which is the currently the latest date for the receipt of material by the Archives of Art Criticism, in Rennes. It is based on the Archives’ large body of material relating to AICA’s history that is being progressively treated and made permanently available for on-line consultation at:

The programme started out from a realisation that many people considered contemporary art criticism, as a form of critical discourse, to be limited to purely aesthetic issues, whereas in reality it suffered from the same forms of prejudice with which contemporary art itself was frequently regarded, as a rather hermetic and elitist practice.

That is why we would like to rethink art criticism and its historical basis in archival material, by going beyond art criticism’s primary definition, as an aesthetic discourse. By reviewing the archival material and the full range of topics and questions it raises, we aim to understand art criticism, rather, as an indicator – or even an incubator – of concomitant issues and debates within society.

By considering art criticism as en epistemological prism, the programme deliberately adopts a perspective that shifts art history and its methodologies off-centre. Therefore, the programme brings together national and international researchers, involved in the fields, not only of the history of contemporary art, but also of contemporary history, the philosophy of art, media studies and communications, the history of architecture, epistemology and sociology. Since the programme can guarantee access to the relevant documents, our aim is to reach scientific communities that are in some cases still unfamiliar with “art criticism”, as an object of research. For our part, we hope to gain a deeper insight into art criticism and its impact, as a platform for related socio-political, cultural and scientific issues.

Two main transversal questions underpin and guide the initial Programme studies for 2016 and 2017:

  • Criticism at the intersection between science, technology and media (2016)
  • Politics, as a site for critical debate (2017)

A Cartography of Art Criticism since 1945

Due to the nature of the numerous archival records, the Programme focuses on the period of the Cold War and early globalisation, by taking as its scope the topics of the AICA Congresses and General Assemblies (e.g. Art and Television, Art and the City, Art and Technology, Functions of Art and Social Movements, Centre and Periphery) and the chronology and geography of records, from 1948 until 2003. An analysis of this primary source material reveals an impressive cartography of art criticism since 1945.

AICA held some of its early Annual Congresses as far apart as in Istanbul (1954), Dubrovnik (1956), Mexico City (1962), Tel Aviv (1963), Prague and Bratislava (1966), Kinshasa (1973), and Dresden and East Berlin (1974). The documents about these trips, visits and conferences confirm the need for us to re-think the narratives of history and the history of art, in order to get beyond the doxa of a world split into two homogeneous, watertight blocs, up until 1989. The new perspectives gained in recent years by transnational approaches and global studies draw attention to the existence of parallel and concomitant developments in AICA’s evolution – in other words, the types of ‘multiple histories’ that have already been written about in other areas of study.

The programme’s main objective is to constitute a Transversal History of Contemporary Art Criticism and its relation to the socio-political, cultural and scientific issues and challenges of its time. Thus, as one of the elements of this programme, we would like to stimulate research into the history of various national AICA sections that were not necessarily in a favourable position during the Cold War and the post-colonial period. The archival evidence for AICA’s activities in different countries provides a vital aid to understanding the national and international dynamics of art criticism, and to relativizing the impact of a pro-Western bias.

How to access the archival material on-line:

If you are interested in discovering historical rarities, facts and information about the AICA’s history, you can access the original documents by consulting our database (i.e. the “General Guide to Archival Records”/“guide general des fonds d’archives”).

If you select “Fonds AICA”, you will discover the list of the chronological folders. The Congresses and Assemblies from 1948 until 1968 are already available on-line. They are constantly being augmented.

Each folder has a technical description, as well as a short summary of the contents of the Congress in question.

You may then access to the individual files – Fiches détaillées – to find the original reports, programs and papers for different events (Pdf format).


How to help us:

We are convinced of the crucial importance of documents and archives for any kind of historical research, even in a very contemporary, digitalised context.

However, if you are the author of any papers or documents in the AICA collection in Rennes that you do not wish to have published on-line, all you have to do is inform us by e-mail, and we will then withdraw the originals from our database.

Given our focus on the history of AICA since its beginnings, we welcome any contribution (testimonies, writings, documents) that may help us to understand the background and inner workings of the different Congresses and Assemblies, including:

  • Photographs, audio-visual recordings, unpublished written material
  • Publications (articles, books, brochures, related to AICA activities)
  • Information about the location of archival material relating to the national sections
  • Written or recorded testimonies relating to important AICA members, AICA events, or the history of national sections
  • Help with identifying AICA members on photographs from the AICA collection in Rennes (please see the file attached to this communication!)

For any kind of contribution or information, please contact us direct:

Dr. Antje Kramer-Mallordy, Scientific Project Manager:

Dr. Nathalie Boulouch, Head of the Archives de la critique d’art:

Henry Meyric Hughes, Honorary President of AICA, Chair of the Committee for the Archives and Living Memory:


Please don’t hesitate to come and visit us at the Archives in Rennes, where we shall be glad to make you welcome!

Archives de la critique d’art
4 allée Marie Berhaut, Bât. B
35000 Rennes, France

Thank you, in advance, for your interest and your kind support, in helping us to develop the PRISME Research Programme into a pioneer project for studying the Global History of Contemporary Art Criticism.