The 1940s in Focus: American Art during the Decade of Transition - The Courtauld Institute of Art

The 1940s in Focus: American Art during the Decade of Transition

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Call for Papers, Conference, Modern and Contemporary - Centre for American Art, Research Forum

The 1940s in Focus: American Art during the Decade of Transition

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London

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Peter Blume, 'The Rock', 1944/48. The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Edgar Kaufmann Jr.

Organised by

  • Professor David Peters Corbett - Director, Centre for American Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Tatsiana Zhurauliova - Terra Foundation for American Art Research and Teaching Fellow at the Fondation de l'Université Paris Nanterre, and Université Paris Diderot


The concept for this conference is motivated by a singular assumption—that the 1940s was one of the most significant decades in the history of the United States and that it dramatically transformed the country’s self-image and position in the world. The decade, which saw the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, has been the focus of numerous scholarly publications in the fields of U.S. history, political science, globalization studies, and, most recently, literary and cultural studies. Yet the scholarship on American art and visual culture still tends to fraction the decade through the pre-1945 and post-1945 divide. While regarding 1945 as a pivotal moment, these accounts focus on what preceded or followed the 1940s, whether it is the early-twentieth-century modernism, socially engaged art of the 1930s, or the rise of the New York School and the turn towards the postmodernist paradigm. As a result, the 1940s remain an elusive decade in the historiography of American art, although a number of recent publications, primarily focused on individual artists working at the time, have proposed fresh perspectives on the period. This conference will contribute to the process of reconceptualization of the 1940s by bringing together scholars and curators who offer new approaches to thinking about the decade. In particular, the conference will give texture to the lived experience of the decade by addressing hitherto little known or understudied artistic communities across the country, as well as their networks of patronage, exchange, and collaboration.

Proposals are invited for 20-minute papers that deal with new research and interpretation and with artists and works of the 1940s in the USA. Proposals should be copied to David Peters Corbett ( and Tatsiana Zhurauliova ( Proposals are due by 15:00 UK on 13 January 2020. Please include a 150-word biographical statement with your proposal.

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