The antipodean consciousness: renaming modernism
‘Yet, sure as we may be of the end, it is the present that we have to face.’ Bernard Smith admits one great intellectual failing that has haunted his career: the inability to reconcile his desire for the contemporary with wanting to be a historian. His one solace, he repeatedly says, is Hegel’s aphorism: ‘The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.’ Now in his ninetieth year, he should know. But he also knows from his long experience working as an art historian with a keen sense of being at the end of empire – in the historical sense of living during the twilight of Europe’s colonial empires, and also in the geographic sense of writing about art from the opposite side of the world to Europe, always in the shadow of its sun. This antipodean consciousness, as he called it, gave him a purchase that few other art historians had. Previously art historians had thought about the origins of art from a global perspective, but to my knowledge he was the first to consider modern art in these terms.