History of feminist art history: remaking a discipline and its institutions
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Recognising art’s crucial function for reproducing economic and sexual differences, feminist political interventions - alongside a range of ‘new’ critical perspectives including Marxism, psychoanalysis and poststructuralism - have wrought historic changes upon the production, circulation and consumption of art. This is widely acknowledged in art historical scholarship. However, understanding that ‘art history’ (as a historically conditioned discipline) is concurrently reproductive of these ideological and material inequalities, feminist scholars have significantly and continually sought to intervene at the point of production – the writing of art’s history – to expose its social role and remake the fundamental terms of the discipline. This is a truth less widely acknowledged or, at least, less well-understood within contemporary scholarship. This thesis, therefore, seeks to examine the discipline of art history in Anglo- American contexts to assess the impact that feminist models of scholarship have had upon its knowledges and practices. This is attained through extensive literature overviews, archival research and, to a lesser extent, email interviews with key contributors to the discourse. Ultimately, this examination endeavours to address the production and regulation of feminist knowledge across a number of expanded (and interconnected) institutional sites. Case studies track the impact of feminist strategies upon the authoring of art history in the classroom, within scholarly professional organisations, academic publishing, the museum sector, and upon art-making itself. The research evaluates the mutable power structures of the discipline, how feminist interventions have had success in rethinking the limits of institutional knowledge, and how it may be possible to articulate critique under twenty-first-century conditions of institutional complicity and the hegemonic recuperation (or indeed ‘disciplining’) of radical practices. To date – and despite its prominence within much feminist writing - the importance of art historiography for the feminist political project has not been properly examined; the aim of this thesis is therefore to redress this omission and provide a timely and comprehensive critical reading of feminist knowledge production since around 1970.