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  • Writer's pictureART HISTORY

Belatedness and North American Art

A series of online events organised by Professor Emily C. Burns (Director of the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West, University of Olkahoma) and Professor David Peters Corbett (Professor of American Art and Director of the Centre for American Art, The Courtauld)

When: 21 October 2022, 24 February 2023, 28 April 2023, 16 June 2023

Where: On Zoom

Alfredo Andersen, 'Entrada da Barra do sul (Pôr-do-Sol)' [Barra do Sul Inlet (Sunset)], oil on canvas, 1930, 70.5 x 98.5 cm; Alfredo Andersen Museum, Curitiba, Brazil

How has belatedness - framed through constructs of being behind, delayed, and not yet arrived - shaped the arts and the historiography of the arts of North America? This series considers how North American art has been both historically denigrated and celebrated through ironically longstanding charges that parts of the continent were young, without history, and without tradition compared with European civilizations. From where did this myth arise, and what are its contours, limitations, and implications? How and in what contexts did this liability become an asset in ways that interweave with fluid ideas of national identity and modernity? How did this assertion shape aesthetic practices? How did these ideas resonate differently related to the cultures of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Indigenous nations, and the Caribbean, as well as in other modern transnational contexts? How has the idea of belatedness shaped the field of North American art history, and the inclusions and exclusions of its canon, within art history’s attention to narratives of aesthetic progress? Where is it ruptured or challenged? How does it align with or depart from wider discussions of temporalities and the history of art?

This set of events proposes to identify and to critique the myths around newness that have constructed a sense of American cultural belatedness from various angles by exploring the impacts the myths have made on art and cultural production, display, criticism, and art historiography.


How do incongruent temporalities jockey for primacy in individual works of art? Does belatedness have a materiality, and if so, how is it construed visually? This session comprises individual case studies which analyze a variety of media, from painting and architecture to design and regalia. The talks analyze how, constructed in the fabric of objects and spaces, belatedness operates as a revealing and malleable myth in the context of settler-Native American and other transnational relationships, as well as human-nature dialogues.

How has the display of U.S. art in transnational contexts built or rejected ideas of American culture as belated? How do exhibitions outside the United States construct cultural arguments, from John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West in eighteenth-century London to interwar and post-World War II exhibitions on the history of U.S. art? How did Copley’s transnational performance shape attempts by John Trumbull and Thomas Sully to circulate exhibitions of art related to U.S. revolutionary history? How did the international circulation of paintings in exhibitions like “Three Centuries of American Art” (1938), “Advancing American Art” (1946-57), “The New American Painting” (1958-59), and the second documenta in 1959 capitalize on ambiguous claims of art’s ‘coming of age’ in these decades? What is the role of art criticism in reinforcing ever dynamic ideas of culture?

In adoptions of impressionism in North, Central, and South America, an aesthetic that foregrounded the idea of newness both in subject matter and in facture, projections of the American continents as lacking history and tradition aligned with style. With its focus on an artist’s direct and immediate engagement with a motif and individual perception, the movement appeared to some critics as an artless style, grounded not only in “forgetting” artistic conventions but also in a perpetual sense of newness. For many critics and artists on both sides of the Atlantic, this naivete at the centre of Impressionist philosophy seemed well-suited for cultures that claimed to lack a past. This roundtable considers examples of American artists, broadly defined, and international critics who engaged with these ideas in writing and in art-making by building an immediacy or proposing instead a deep historical trajectory.

How has belatedness shaped the historiography of the arts of North America? How have projections of belatedness shaped the inclusion or exclusion of African American, Latinx, Caribbean, and Native American art in the canon of “American art,” as well as art from regions outside the Northeast? How have the arts of Canada and Mexico been framed in dialogue with the art of the United States? Has visual studies recentred these hierarchies? In the context of the United States, how has the discipline’s emergence in dialogue with the American Mind school of American studies continued to shape the sub-field’s relationships with the wider field and canons of the history of art? How have narratives of modernist progress in abstraction shaped critics’ constructions of belatedness around artists who retain figuration? How have artists operating outside geographic and cultural “centres” of art production taken up, mimicked, or inverted expectations of cultural belatedness?

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