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Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in New Deal New York

Patterson, J; (2009) Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in New Deal New York. Doctoral thesis , University of London. Green open access

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Abstract

This research project is the first comprehensive study to address the relations between modem art, leftist politics, and the New Deal federal art initiatives in New York City during the turbulent years of the Great Depression. While this period in American art is largely associated with the dominance of figurative works and the promotion of what was perceived as a tradition of native realism, the art scene was considerably more factional and complex than canonical narratives indicate. Significantly, the use of a modernist visual vocabulary was not nearly so marginal as current art-historical scholarship continues to suggest. This project explores the ways in which artists with varying degrees of commitment to the left, such as Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, and Balcomb Greene, negotiated a rapprochement between modernist aesthetics and leftist politics within a complex cultural field deeply divided by contending ideologies. Specifically, it examines these relations with respect to public muralism, an artform that underwent a significant transformation during the decade, emerging as a vital manifestation of revolutionary popular art and serving as an exemplary means of bringing art to the people. In an effort to offer some corrective to the inadequacy of received notions of 1930s public art the primary goals of this study are two-fold: to analyze the ways in which artists negotiated the political mandates of the Communist Party, the Popular Front, and the New Deal state in order to fuse modernist artistic practices and leftist politics; and to examine the ways in which both Roosevelt's New Deal and the Communist Party's Popular Front were politically and ideologically able to accommodate the development of modernism, particularly within the context of the Public Works of Art Project (1933-1934) and the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project (1935-1943).

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in New Deal New York
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by EThOS.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Dept of History of Art
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1546347
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