Welcome to the Pre-Conference Conversations for the New England American Studies Conference. We're writing about the things we'll talk about the conference--join the conversation!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Digital Approach and the Globalization of Art Historical Discourses. A Case Study: Jackson Pollock in Postwar Europe

The project I will present at the 2012 NEASA Conference is part of Artl@s. Launched in 2009 at the École normale supérieure in Paris, Artl@s aims at promoting a geo-social and transnational history of the arts that meets the challenge of spatial and digital humanities. It brings together scholars eager to embrace digital technology to share, process, and visualize socio-historical data. Artl@s provides them with the tools and support to achieve a dynamic and total history of the arts, namely a database, BasArt; a working space, Artl@s Worksite; a publishing interface, Artl@s Website; and a collection of interactive books, Artl@s Publications. The underlying ambition of Artl@s is to participate in the redefinition of the discipline after the spatial, global, and digital turns, help scholars rethink and adapt their practices in this new intellectual environment, and educate and empower the public. At the core of the project is the belief that a spatial approach is a means to contribute to a truly global history of the arts and to partake in one of the most important characteristics of the digital revolution: learning by sharing.

My own contribution to Artl@s considers the diffusion of American art in postwar Western Europe. Thanks to the generous support of the Vice President of Research at Purdue University, I was able to bring together a multidisciplinary team that includes two of my colleagues Christopher Miller, a geoinformatics expert in charge of the Purdue GIS Library, and Sorin A. Matei, a digital humanity specialist creator of Visible Past, a georeferenced online content management. The project focuses on exhibitions that took place between 1945 and 1970 and that featured works by American Abstract Expressionist and American Pop artists. The results of this research will be featured on an interactive web application that will allow users to view the maps, zoom in on them, select artists or artworks, scroll through dates, and even create their own maps. It will thus be a great tool for scholars, students, and museums professionals, who will be able to use it as a starting point for their own investigations.

At the 2012 NEASA Conference, I will take the reception of Jackson Pollock in postwar Europe as a case study. I will describe the process of transforming the analog information available on this artist into relational database, which is then used to generate dynamic maps and statistics. I hope to demonstrate how those maps and charts not only summarize and visualize information, but also how they expose new information that allow me to challenge the official story of postwar American art.

By Catherine Dossin


  1. Hi Catherine,

    Really interesting stuff, thanks for sharing your work!

    A couple years back at a NEASA Conference, a grad student from William & Mary presented some work on the Rockefellers and their post-war tours of Europe with American artists like Pollock. She wanted to read the tours as an explicit kind of Cold War propaganda, for American exceptionalism, and thus Pollock as being co-opted into that to at least some extent. Just another side to these questions to consider, I guess--and one I'm sure you're thinking about as well, the question of how and where an artist gets these opportunities and what that adds to the conversation.

    Ben Railton

  2. Hi Catherine,

    I know you may not be addressing this directly (at least in this post), but I wonder how such a project might lead to better understandings of reception; how do the communities at that time read such exhibitions? It makes me think about how people in countries develop (or developed) their ideas about other counties....