The Whitney Museum of American Art: Gender, Museum Display, and Modernism

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Title: The Whitney Museum of American Art: Gender, Museum Display, and Modernism
Author: Balcerek, Katherine Emma
Advisors: Dr. David Zonderman, Committee Chair
Dr. Craig Friend, Committee Member
Dr. Stephanie Spencer , Committee Member
Abstract: The Whitney Museum of American Art founded in 1931 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney offers insight into the role of women patrons in the American art world. Furthermore, the Museum’s contemporary identification with the Museum of Modern Art obscures its unique history and different founding principles. This paper explores the foundation of the Whitney Museum in roughly the first two decades of its existence from 1931 to 1953 to examine how Whitney and the Museum’s first director, Juliana Force, negotiated gender and class ideology and the Modernist discourse to found the first museum solely devoted to American art. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Juliana Force operated the Whitney Museum based on three main principles: the primacy of the individual artist, the promotion of American art, and the importance of an informal museum space. The Whitney Museum of American Art, staked Whitney and Force’s claim in a male dominated art world. The Museum was a complex space, representing a modern feminine viewpoint that embraced inclusivity and elitism, masculine and feminine, Modernism and conservatism. Whitney and Force wanted the Whitney Museum to be less formal and more inclusive, so they designed it like a middle class home with intimate galleries, furniture, carpets, and curtains. However, the decor hindered the Whitney Museum’s influence on the modern art canon because critics perceived the Museum as feminine and personal, Modernism’s rejection of the feminine and realism that ultimately led to the exclusion of the Whitney Museum’s collection of realist art from the modern art historical canon.
Date: 2010-04-30
Degree: MA
Discipline: Public History

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