A New Unity: Montage in the Murals of Ben Shahn and Stuart Davis in the 1930s United States


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Department of Art History and Archaeology


This dissertation examines painting, photography, and film to assert that Soviet montage theory and aesthetics had a critical impact on the American mural movement of the 1930s. It thereby revises the current assessment that montage in the early twentieth century was specifically a European category operating on European terrain. In addition to exploring the mural movement’s broader transnational context, this project also theorizes the significant cross-fertilization of media that took place during this period. It argues that some New Deal muralists adapted filmic and photographic montage for their painted murals in order to modernize and popularize American muralism, and to activate viewers through a more dynamic visualization of history. Concentrating on murals by Ben Shahn and Stuart Davis, whose montage aesthetics straddle the divide between realism and abstraction, this study works to reverse assumptions that have prevented our understanding of how socially conscious public art advanced American modernism.