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Relocating Modernism: Global Metropolises, Modern Art and Exile

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - METROMOD (Relocating Modernism: Global Metropolises, Modern Art and Exile)

Reporting period: 2020-06-01 to 2021-11-30

“Relocating Modernism: Global Metropolises, Modern Art and Exile (METROMOD)” follows the hypothesis that the migration movements of artists in the first half of the twentieth century had a profound and long-term impact on art history by establishing new transcultural places of artistic encounter in global metropolises. Urban locations were of particular importance for exiled artists, not only for communicating, cooperating and exhibiting, forming networks and formulating theories; they were also stations on the diverse paths of exile. METROMOD focuses on six metropolitan destinations for refugee European artists: New York, Buenos Aires, London, Istanbul, Bombay (now Mumbai) and Shanghai. The project follows interconnections between the cities through a comparative approach.

METROMOD challenges the concept of Modernism as fixed, stable and western, and aims to overcome established and still dominant narratives of Western European Modernism with centres in Paris, Vienna or Berlin. It contributes to a paradigm shift in writing modernist art history as a history of global interconnections, spurred by migratory movements.

Through its three key objectives METROMOD marks out a unique and unconventional map of artistic life and work in exile metropolises: It explores transformations in urban topographies and institutions; focuses on actors and their artistic networks, artworks and exhibitions as contact zones; and examines media as discursive platforms between locals and migrants.

The project’s methods combine urban studies with art history and exile studies to investigate how modern art changed in interrelation with local metropolitan cultures and artists. In addition to publications in journals and books, the results of the project are being communicated by digital mapping. As well as impacting the writing of art history, METROMOD provides a historical perspective from which today’s migration movements can be better understood.
METROMOD’s first international conference “Arrival Cities: Migrating Artists and New Metropolitan Topographies” was convened in Munich in 2018 in cooperation with ZI — Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte Munich and Kunstverein Munich. The conference proceedings have been successfully peer-reviewed and will be published in 2020 with Leuven University Press (gold open-access). Two international conferences were held in 2019: “Bombay’s Spaces of Sociability: Exile, Migration and Contact Zones” in Mumbai in cooperation with Sir JJ College for Architecture, Mumbai, and “Crossing French Metropolises: Exiled Artists and Intellectuals during the 20th century” at DFK — Centre allemand d’Histoire de l’art in Paris.

Art publications, theoretical concepts and discourses generated in centres of exile have been explored in the team members’ case studies as well as in the lecture series “Modern Times. New Perspectives on Modern Art and the Canon of Art History” (2019) with the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. Photography, media theory and exile are central to the special issue “Nomadic Camera” of the journal “Fotogeschichte” (2019). Following extensive archival work, the team has published five articles in specialist journals, 10 book chapters (green open access) and communicated results through more than 30 presentations at international academic venues.

Locations related to exiled and local artists have been entered into our data collection system Nodegoat, which visualizes connections between places, actors and objects. Finally, for wider public outreach METROMOD disseminates research, activities, publications on the project website
METROMOD explores innovative approaches and methods through a conceptual triangle of modernism, migration and the metropolis, which are understood as interrelated and mutually constitutive. Explorations in diverse archives in the six target cities have shed light on exiled actors, objects, exhibitions and flight routes. Through this recuperative work, the project contributes to a new understanding of modern art and architecture as “on the move” and “dispersed”.

Digital technologies are fundamental to our work. Our innovative website ( makes research activities and publications visible. Nodegoat, developed by LAB1100, is both a database and a visualization tool, and a key element of the project. By superimposing the maps of the different cities, a new mapping of artistic modernism is being created that extends far beyond Europe.

By the end of the project, deeper evaluations of interconnections between exile, modern art and metropolises, revealed by the comparative approach will deliver results beyond the actual state of art. Curated walks, as well as mappings of the metropolises, actors, objects and events will be visualized on our website. Conferences in New York, London and Istanbul will further disseminate the results.
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