“Luminism” is a term that in the 1960s was deployed to designate and define a school of mid-nineteenth century American landscape painting as nationally and artistically significant. It raised a group of hitherto minor painters to prominence and designated them as the most important, distinctively American contribution to the art of the United States of the entire century. By the late 1980s, however, no academic scholar used the term. In this paper, Bruce Robertson (Professor of Art & Architecture and Director of Art, Design & Architecture Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara) will examine the critical role museums played in the production of the canon of American art, and the interaction among academic scholarship, museums, and markets, within the framework of national political developments. Analyzing the success and failure of “luminism,” he will consider the strength and limits of museums to shape canons, and suggest some other examples worth examining. American art has a particular value in examining the knowledge work that museums do because the growth of American art is exactly coincident with the development of the public museum.
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