Totalitarian Aesthetics and the Democratic Imagination in American Art, 1933-1947


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Department of Art History


In the decades framing WWII, artworks helped shape the image of the Soviet Union as, alternately, an ally or enemy to the United States. At the same time, Soviet art helped establish parameters of a term new to American audiences, ‘totalitarianism,’ at once an elusive designation, the legibility of which grew in importance as the war drew to a close. This dissertation examines the impact of Soviet art in the United States order to trace the evolution of a visual identity for totalitarianism in the American context. In doing so, it argues that print media, paintings, architecture and exhibition design from the Soviet Union shown in the US served as transformative, dialogical sites of civic engagement in which new terms of democratic aesthetics were exercised and honed.