Tag: critical theory

During the last half century, the history of American sculpture has been transformed dramatically. Very roughly, during the first twenty-five years (i.e., from the late 1960s to mid-1990s), scholars used object- or artist-based documentary scholarship, connoisseurship, and formalist analyses to create the foundation publications.

Museums can be spaces where memories are created; where a wide range of identities and experiences can be explored and validated; where people can engage with new ideas and perspectives; where individuals can connect with their past, reflect upon their present, and imagine their future; and where people can interact with one another in a deeply profound or an enjoyably casual manner.

Because of the power inherent in images, collections of these formidable objects themselves accrete power. These display and storage spaces—whether actual or virtual—may quickly become politicized, as the museum staff and the local community wrestle with the symbolic nature of representations.

This essay focuses attention on the little-known third edition from 1948 of Helen Gardner’s art history survey text, Art Through the Ages, in which Gardner (1878–1946), a University of Chicago-trained art historian and professor of art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, mounted what may have been the first attempt to write a rigorously global history of art.

In a way, the question we have asked of our five respondents: “Is American art history conservative?” is an odd one. Despite the troublingly combative obduracy that the psychic and physical boundaries of American-ness have assumed in the larger political discourse this election season, the field of American art history has never been more catholic in its interests or inclusive in its approaches.