The uneasy relationship between the arts, US art museums, and the federal government has not been thoroughly explored by scholars. This book focuses on the development of “national diplomacy exhibitions” during World War II and the early Cold War and explains how the War provided the government with an impetus to create a national arts policy. It discusses how national diplomacy exhibitions on US soil were deployed as persuasive tools to influence public opinion, to reconcile discrepancies between high art and democracy, and to resolve America’s lagging art status and difficulties with “the foreign.” The type of soft diplomacy that art museums provide by initiating national diplomacy exhibitions has not received emphasis in the scholarly community and art museums have essentially been ignored in cultural studies of the early Cold War.
Scholarly analysis of museum exhibitions in the last quarter of the 20th century is now a popular topic, but investigations of exhibitions between 1939-1960 have been thin. By scrutinizing major exhibitions during those formative years this book takes a new perspective and examines the foundational development of the so-called “blockbuster” exhibition stimulated by World War II.
The book will interest readers in visual studies, history, museums, cultural affairs, government, and international diplomacy.
Kathleen Berrin spent forty years as curator of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. During that time she developed national diplomacy exhibitions with Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, and Australia and curated over forty non-Western art exhibitions in which she has collaborated with major museums including the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. In 1986 she received a metal from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia y Historia of the Government of Mexico for the return of Teotihuacan murals as well as the Peruvian Order of Merit for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts in 1988. She received a PhD in history at the University of California, Irvine, and is now a curator emeritus, an educator, and a cultural historian.
Table of Contents
Part I: Before World War II
1. America’s Lagging Reputation in the Arts and Development of its Art Museums
2. A Modern Identity for America: The First Ten Years of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1929-1939)
3. Old-World Traditions and Excellence: America: The Wartime Origins of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (1925-1945)
Part II: During World War II
4. Enlisting the Arts: War Themed Exhibitions at NGA and MoMA
5. Art in the Service of Persuasion: Nelson Rockefeller and the OCIAA Exhibitions
6. Projecting Influence Abroad: The Second Roberts Commission and the Officers of the Monument, Fine Arts, & Archives Program
Part III: After World War II
7. Shifting Relations: Federal Government and Art Museums in the Early Cold War (1945-1955)
8. Foreign Diplomacy Exhibitions on U.S. Soil (1947-1977)
9. Exhibiting the Other: Personal Experiences With Foreign Diplomacy Exhibitions at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (1973-2011)
10.Perspectives on the Future
About the author
While so much has been written about the use of art in America’s ‘soft power’ arsenal after World War II, Kathleen Berrin’s study nevertheless breaks important new ground. Beginning with her focus on the pre-World War II period, the essential roles played by museum directors, curators, and donors, and the careful analysis of foreign art brought to the United States for display, Berrin significantly expands both the breadth and depth of our understanding of cultural diplomacy. This is an important and insightful work.
Exhibiting the Foreign demonstrates that art - and art exhibitions - matter. And not only in some vaguely humanistic sense but in their role they have played in America's foreign relations and soft-diplomacy. Kathleen Berrin spent a career working inside museums and she knows whereof she writes. Berrin is correct that this topic has been overlooked by scholars, and once you're finished with this book you will wonder how this important topic had been hiding in plain sight for so long.
American foreign policy in the Cold War played out on many more stages than traditional diplomacy. Kathleen Berrin’s fascinating and important book probes an often forgotten one: how American museums exhibited the art of other nations and in the process transformed themselves from marginal institutions to powerhouses of international cultural politics, often with the direct support of the U.S. government. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about art, museums, and American foreign relations.