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Unit information: Cold War Culture: Art and Politics since 1945 (Level I Special Field) in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

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




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

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. identify and analyse the significance of key themes in the development of art and visual culture in the context of the Cold War
  2. articulate an understanding of the historiographical debates that surround the topic
  3. deploy skills in working with primary sources
  4. demonstrate writing and research skills appropriate to level I/5.

Teaching details

1 x 2hr seminars and 1 x 1hr workshop weekly

Assessment Details

One 3000-word summative essay (75%) [ILOs 1-4]

One one-hour exam (25%) [ILOs 1-2]

Reading and References

  • Morris, Frances, Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 (exh cat.), Tate Gallery, London 1993
  • Gertje Utley, Picasso: The Communist Years (New Haven and London 2000)
  • James Hyman, The Battle for Realism: Figurative Art in Britain During the Cold War (London, 2001)
  • Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel, Jackson Pollock: New Approaches (New York 1999)