Allison M. Myers
French art from the 1960s and 1970s is virtually nonexistent in American art historical narratives, despite a consistent and multifaceted relationship between French and American cultures at this time. Allison Myers’s dissertation seeks to understand why.
Before World War II, Paris was widely recognized as the epicenter of the art world. The idea of “French art” implied progress and cutting edge innovation. After World War II, however, with the exodus of artists and intellectuals across Europe and with the damaged economic and social structures in France, New York City became the new leader of the international art world. By the 1960s, American art became the new measure of progress and the word “French” had transformed into a synonym for all things decorative, conventional and uninspired. Artists and critics would use it as a smear word – a word to define themselves against – and it remained in use through the 1980s.
Today, in the United States, very few art historians know what was happening in France during the 1960s and 1970s. It has become a black hole in the narrative of post-war art that is all the more pronounced because French theory, film and literature in these decades continue to be crucial to our understanding of the period. Art historians will use French theorists like Foucault or Deleuze to talk about American art, even while these theorists often used French examples in their writing. What American art history forgets is that France was home to many young, cutting edge artists – artists engaged with many of the same issues that preoccupied their American counterparts, such as pop culture, technology and the interest in conceptual systems over personal expression. By comparing the works of this time with the rhetoric and social dynamics of the historical moment, Allison hopes to explain how the post-war construction of French culture in America continued into the later decades of the century and was used by the American art world to categorize and dismiss French painting and sculpture in the 1960s and 1970s.
The 1960s and 1970s are themselves important decades in the evolution of twentieth-century art and culture as they mark the transition between the modernism of the pre-war decades and the pluralist, postmodernism of the 1980s and 1990s. So, the time period itself is one where people are becoming more and more interested in expanding the idea of identity and looking at how individuals are made up of many different cultural elements. It’s thus an excellent opportunity to really look closely at how this was functioning on the ground level – in the practice of artists, in the criticism and in the histories that came after.
Ultimately, by using the strained history between America and France in the 1960s and 1970s as a springboard, Allison wishes to show how cultural constructions of national identity affect the reception and understanding of works of art. She would also like this project to specifically change the way scholars understand the construction of artistic identity in the United States and France during these decades. She feels it is fascinating to see how cultural frameworks affect and change the way we view artistic practices and works of art. She also states that It’s easy to believe that history can be objective – that we can view and understand a work of art in itself, outside of any historical or cultural biases. What her dissertation shows, however, is that we have an absolute dependency on the frameworks in which we exist and this includes historians and the histories they write. Allison remarks that history itself is always situated and we must be vigilant in recognizing and staying aware of this fact. This focus on how we write histories is a second, underlying theme of her project.
The Powers Fellowship is a great honor for Allison and will allow her to have the freedom she needs to travel and conduct primary research. Because her project considers a historical moment, as opposed to a small set of works or a single artist, she needs to dig through a lot of archives of galleries, artists, collectives, critics, etc. – some in New York, others in Washington DC and still others in France. She also plans on interviewing a number of artists and critics who can give her a first-person perspective on the atmosphere of the time. Given that many of these art world figures are advanced in age, it’s a task that must be done soon and she hopes that her interviews will aid future researchers by establishing documentation of these important peoples’ lives. In the end, Allison’s goal is to stay in academia and publish her project as a book. Having the freedom to travel with a Powers Fellowship this year means that she can follow the research trail wherever it may lead her – a luxury that she’s very grateful to have.
Allison M. Myers
Art History (Doctoral)
B.A. Webster University
David Bruton, Jr. Endowed Graduate Fellowship in the College of Fine Arts, 2010-2011
The Dr. Ralph and Marie B. Hanna Centennial Endowed Scholarship in Art, 2010-2011
M. K. Hage Endowed Scholarship in Fine Arts, 2008-2009
M. K. Hage Endowed Scholarship in Fine Arts, 2007-2008
Photo by Roxanne Rathge © UT Austin