Art in the Service of the Nation: 1750-2000

Course Description: 

This course offers a problem-oriented approach to the arts in a national context. Alternating between close analysis of selected representative examples and a critical approach to national self-representation in comparative perspective, it aims to introduce students to the creation and display of objects ranging from ancient sculptures to contemporary performance art in the service of the nation-state. Themes will include the fabrication of national traditions in textbooks, academies of art, national patronage, histories of collecting, museum policies and practices, world’s fairs, and cultural heritage preservation in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. Students will be introduced to artworks from across the spectrum of production and consumption ranging from ancient sculptures to contemporary performance art in order to question how the nation-state has used objects to represent and control its self-image. Assigned readings of approximately 50 pages per class will be supplemented with a series of related images. While keeping in mind a set of questions listed on the syllabus, student led discussions will critically engage with the readings and with regional museums and collections in Budapest and Vienna. A central point of the course is to give participants the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with objects and modes of cataloguing and displaying them. This will include in-depth experience with museum software systems in week 5, a survey of regional exhibitions in week 6, and class convening in the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna during week 7. At the end of the course, participants will have the opportunity to present a topic of their choice relating to their final research paper.


Learning Outcomes: 

Identify and explain major turning points in the history of collecting and the historiography of art as they relate to the nation state

* Demonstrate awareness of the political forces behind patronage, collecting, cataloguing, and labeling artworks on display

* Recognize and use a variety of approaches to the study of the geography of art

* Develop a coherent analytical viewpoint on the evolving role of the museum in mediating public history


Students will be graded based on class participation (50%) and a ten-page paper (50%). The parameters of the paper are to be determined by the student in consultation with the professor during office hours. Students can choose to write a historiographical essay, exhibition critique, an extended reader response paper, or a short research paper.