Critic, curator, collector: Christian Brinton and the exhibition of national modernism in America, 1910--1945

Andrew J Walker, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation focuses on the life and career of Christian Brinton (1870–1942), an internationally noted critic, collector, and curator, who participated in the promotion of modernism between 1910 and the end of his life. Over a thirty-five year career, he wrote more than 200 articles and curated scores of exhibitions that introduced to American audiences the modern and contemporary art of Northern, Eastern, and Southern Europe. He moved with remarkable ease through diverse communities of intellectuals, artists, and art world professionals who, by and large, were united by a single purpose: To popularize modernism in America. Unlike some of his contemporaries, however, Brinton did not believe modernism's expressive forms, anti-illusionism, and primitive style signaled an international aesthetic revolution that broke with all past traditions. Rather, he considered both the form and content of modernism to be a major advance in the evolutionary progress of art, and therefore connected to intellectual debates that helped to construct the interrelated ideas of “race” and “nation” during the interwar years. He allied his own critical perspective with the burgeoning efforts of art museum directors in America, and with their full support, organized numerous travelling exhibitions of Nordic, Slavic, and Teutonic modernism. Using Brinton as the helmsman, this dissertation proposes a new interpretation of modernism during the interwar era in America. This study examines how critics and curators, with the cooperation of foreign critics and state institutions, used temporary exhibitions of mode modernism of proffer a political interpretation of art production organized around the concept of “the nation” rather than aesthetic universality. This dissertation also traces the dissolution of Brinton's museum model for modernism. Although active in promoting modern art and international intellectual exchange, his ideas were too dose to the supporters of scientific racism for the comfort of others fighting for the cause of “new” art.

Subject Area

Art History|American studies|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Walker, Andrew J, "Critic, curator, collector: Christian Brinton and the exhibition of national modernism in America, 1910--1945" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9953610.