Erasing the Avant-Gardes: Anti-Modernism in French Art History, Criticism, and Education, 1920-1944.
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Art historians have identified a rightward turn in the artistic climate of France in the interwar period, one opposed to an avant-garde accused of being foreign to national culture, and reflective of a broader cultural and political shift towards the right. However, a study detailing the strength and variety of forces opposed to modernism and the avant-gardes in this period has yet to be written.
Drawing on newspapers, art journals, art history books, and sources from private and national archives in France, my dissertation presents four detailed case studies of reactionary, anti-avantgardeist and anti-modernist critics, art educators and art historians during this period, expanding our understanding of the position and influence of these rightwing intellectuals. Analyzing their aims, the artists they supported, their audiences, their social networks, and finally their links to the French state, the dissertation will reconstitute the multiple and multifaceted platforms of conservative cultural activism, revealing the contours of a powerful, persistent, and often successful cultural and political agenda that sought to undermine or reverse the course of modernism.
Accounting for the strategies through which rightwing art world actors battling modernism and the avant-gardes sought to institutionalize their campaigns, this dissertation complicates and revises our understanding of the substantial challenges posed to modern art in the interwar period, demonstrating the power of these interventions while also pointing to the tacit complicity of the French state with these efforts.
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