College Art Association Annual Conference, February 14-17, 2024, Chicago (in-person)
Session Chair: Elizabeth A. Spear, Museums at Washington and Lee University
Deadline: August 31, 2023
Unsettling the Artistic Legacy of Albert Bierstadt
This panel seeks new perspectives on the artwork of nineteenth-century American landscape painter Albert Bierstadt. While Bierstadt’s name has occupied a significant place in American art historiography, frequently appearing in survey books and on museum walls, the list of major monographs devoted to the artist is surprisingly brief. With the most influential and comprehensive English-language publications appearing between 1973 and 1991, the interpretation of Bierstadt’s oeuvre that remains mostly-dominant in art historical scholarship was forged during the decades of peak influence of postcolonial studies. A notable exception is 2018’s Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West, in which late scholar of western art Peter Hassrick assembled five essays probing various unexplored facets of the artist’s career and legacy, including a contribution by Hassrick revisiting aspects of his own prior scholarship. As he noted, “Modern historians have portrayed Bierstadt as a hopelessly ambitious social climber, a scheming self-promoter, and a pictorial conjurer who perpetuated myths of equal proportions to his vast spreads of canvas.”
This session asks what new stories may emerge when the previously-imagined figure of the artist no longer haunts our understandings of his artwork. Especially welcome are: papers that consider what it might mean to apply a decolonial lens to Bierstadt’s work, including reinterrogating the role of Native peoples as related to his oeuvre; those that highlight the relevance of photographic imagery, including his work with Eadweard Muybridge; and those that engage with his post-1870 work and critical reputation. Perspectives from Native and Indigenous scholars are particularly encouraged.