Theses Doctoral

Staging Modernism at the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair

Applegate, Heidi

Drawing upon theories concerning visuality, spectatorship, consumption, and the institutionalization of culture, this dissertation considers the ways that the art exhibition at the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) attempted to make modern art accessible and acceptable to a mass audience in America. The story of the exhibition in the Palace of Fine Arts demonstrates how the American artistic establishment incorporated modernism into the conservative idiom of a major international exposition by promoting a definition and understanding of "modern" art that was distinctly national, celebrated individual style over subject matter, and was even open to personal interpretation. Making use of lessons learned at the Armory Show, the PPIE Art Department provided visitors with clear instruction on how to experience the exhibition, how to contextualize it within the broader history of art, and how to subjectively engage with individual works. Through analysis of the exhibition's design, the didactic practices of the Art Department, and the commentary that ensued in the popular press, this project documents the PPIE as a significant institutional venue for the advancement of American art history, as well as the process and contradictions of creating a public for modern art. Chapter One provides an overview of the details of the exhibition's organization, its role within the larger structure of a vastly popular, commercial, and nationalistic enterprise, as well as a framework for defining modernism as it pertained to the PPIE. Chapter Two compares paintings in the art exhibition with other attractions that featured fine art as paid entertainment at the Fair, as a means of examining provincial and national anxieties about nudity, the Futurists, and the definition of high art. Chapter Three analyzes the fine art guidebooks and how they organized, controlled and encouraged certain kinds of viewing experiences of the art exhibition. Focusing on Sargent and Bellows as case studies in how Art Department officials attempted to create a genealogy for modern art, Chapter Four considers the relationship established between the more radical artists in the competition galleries and those canonized as major figures with galleries of their own. The conclusion discusses the lasting impact of the fair through sales and the establishment of a permanent museum for San Francisco.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Hutchinson, Elizabeth West
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 9, 2014