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Unit information: Cold War Culture: Art and Politics since 1945 (Level I Special Field) in 2016/17

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Unit name Cold War Culture: Art and Politics since 1945 (Level I Special Field)
Unit code HART26001
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Mike O'Mahony
Open unit status Not open



HART22225 Special Field Project

School/department Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will introduce students to the theory and practice of the visual arts after 1945 in the context of Cold War politics. It will adopt a tripartite structure exploring three geographical arenas of central importance to Cold War politics: mainland Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union. Through a comparative analysis of the historical conditions and cultural debates generated in each of these arenas during the Post-Second World War era, students will gain a broader awareness of: the diversity of art produced in the second half of the twentieth century; the relationship between the artist and nation state; the use and abuse of visual culture in a context of heightened political tension; the important role played by the dissemination of information about art in public exhibitions and art publications; and the contested identity of the artist in the late twentieth century. Students will learn to engage critically with the complexity of cultural practices during a crucial period in twentieth century history.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students should have:

  • identified, analysed, and deepened their understanding of the significance of key themes in the development of art and visual culture in the context of the Cold War
  • understood the historiographical debates that surround the topic
  • learned how to work with primary sources
  • developed their skills in contributing to and learning from discussion in a small-group environment

Teaching details

Weekly 2-hour seminar Access to tutorial consultation with unit tutor in office hours

Assessment Details

2-hour unseen written examination (summative, 100%)

The examination will assess their understanding of the unit’s key themes in the development of art and visual culture in the context of the Cold War, the related historiography as developed during their reading and participation in / learning from small group seminars, and relevant primary sources. Further assessment of their handling of the relevant primary sources will be provided by the co-requisite Special Field Project (HART 22225)

Reading and References

  • Morris, Frances, Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 (exh cat.), Tate Gallery, London 1993
  • Hyman, James, The Battle for Realism: Figurative Art in Britain During the Cold War, London,2001
  • Guilbaut, Serge, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War, Chicago 1984
  • Varnedoe, Kirk & Pepe Karmel (eds), Jackson Pollock: New Approaches, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1999
  • Cullerne Bown, Matthew, Socialist Realist Painting, New Haven 1998