Stories of the Western artworld, 1936-1986 : from the "fall of Paris" to the "invasion of New York"

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Dossin, Catherine Julie Marie, 1978-

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As we all know, there are multiple stories of art. But even in the West, each country has its own story, especially when it comes to the visual arts in the second part of the twentieth century. The stories told by the French, the German, the Italian, and the American textbooks and museums differ greatly. Yet, the American story is usually regarded as the standard account: the common Western story against which we mentally contrast the Non-Western stories. Without aiming at writing the true story of contemporary Western art, this dissertation tries to uncover alternative stories, interpret the differences, and explain how one particular view came to prevail as the story. Concretely, it examines four contentious issues on which the standard account is particularly challenged by other stories, namely the fracture of the Second World War, the shift of the artworld’s center from Paris to New York, the domination of American art in the 1970s, and finally the European comeback of the 1980s. Analyzing the different national interpretations of these events and confronting them with empirical data (place, date, participant, etc.), the dissertation uncloaks enduring myths and reductive explanations. It highlights above all the role of dealers, collectors, curators, critics, and government officials in the way art is produced, received, and remembered. It also demonstrates how the shifting historical, economic, and institutional contexts continuously reshaped the story, the canon, and the viewers, so that what art historians have traditionally seen as stylistic shifts and artistic leadership appears rather as the result of forces that extend beyond the artistic creation. Stories with less international recognition should not be dismissed in favor of an official story that would erode all differences and present us with a single -- and thus deficient -- perspective. Only through the consideration and analysis of multiple cultural and national perspectives can we understand the complexity of the artworld’s dynamics. Ultimately, I propose a comprehensive yet critical art historical approach rooted in cultural history that would offer a solution to writing art history in an age of globalization that purports to eschew previous assumptions of nationalism and creative genius.