As part of our ongoing collaboration since June 2012, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and the Centre for Art and Philosophy of Erasmus University in Rotterdam are proud to join forces and present Speculative Art Histories, a three-day international research symposium bringing together renowned philosophers and art historians.


2 May 2013: Speculative philosophy and art
3 May 2013: Diagrammatics and the radical picturesque and Speculative conceptions
4 May 2013: Speculative presences and Speculative expressions

Following the recent ‘speculative turn’ in Continental philosophy, prepared by thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze and Alain Badiou and elaborated by philosophers Quentin Meillassoux, Brian Massumi, Isabelle Stengers and Reza Negarestani among many others, the aim of this conference is to propose a counter-discourse of speculative approaches to art and, especially, to art history.

How could today’s materialist, realist, pragmatist, vitalist or object-oriented speculations offer alternatives to the mere complementarity of philosophy of art and art history, which is often based on mutual recognition and critical limitation rather than imaginative crossovers? What new intermedial methodologies for art and art historical writing do they provide? Or vice versa, how can the encounter with art induce new forms of philosophy? How do speculative concepts of time, past and contingency challenge typically modern engagements with art’s ‘history’?

Is there, for example, an unexpected contemporary relevance for pre-modern, e.g. or mannerist or gothic theories of art? And what is the speculative potential of works of art themselves? Does the speculative open up new ways of extending art into fields of biology, mathematics or the digital? What is the ‘thing’ or ‘object’ of art, whether inanimate or animate? What does it mean to have an ‘idea’? And finally, what remains of ‘beauty’ and ‘expressivity’, after decades of critical mistrust and deconstruction?

The guiding intuition of this conference is that both the modern gap between philosophy and art history and the postmodern call for more interdisciplinarity are inspired by a consensual abhorrence of more speculative approaches to art. That things could be otherwise can be learned from early formalist art historians such as Heinrich Wölfflin and Aloïs Riegl, who combined vitalist philosophy with empirical research in an almost proto-structuralist way and whose tradition was continued well into the 20th century by the likes of Henri Focillon and Henri Maldiney.

During the symposium on May 3 and 4 Insurgence (2013), a documentary by Épopée – groupe d’action en cinéma, which accounts the event of the Printemps Érable (the 2012 student protests in Montreal) will be on view in relation to symposium participant Erik Bordeleau (member of Épopée)’s speculative reading of the cinematographic medium.

Speculative Art Histories Symposium is the outcome of the Speculative Art Histories reading group, which meets twice a month at Witte de With to discuss an important text for art theory, be it a philosophical text by contemporary philosophers such as Brian Massumi or Graham Harman or a canonical text from the field of art history by for example Michael Fried or John Dewey.

The Speculative Art Histories reading group is initiated by the Centre for Art and Philosophy upon the invitation of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art.


[figure speculative art histories Bertrand Prevost]