Art histories of the recent past usually depict art after World War II as wrested from a ravaged Europe by a triumphant United States, or in formal terms, floating free of social meaning. These histories fail to describe how the particularities of American culture shaped contemporary art. Without the European triumvirate of academy, aristocracy, and avant-garde, American artists instead responded to social issues native to the country: race, mass culture, individual success, suburbia, and the atomic bomb, which revived the Puritanical tradition of the apocalyptic imaginary. Katy Siegel examines how these issues came to find their place in art ranging from the works of Norman Lewis, Joan Mitchell, and Robert Rauschenberg to Kerry James Marshall and Mike Kelley, situating them amidst an American literary and political discourse that includes Herman Melville, Ralph Ellison, and Frederick Exley. Since '45 explores how U.S. culture not only shaped American art, but, given the political and economic dominance of the U.S., has continued to affect contemporary art worldwide, even as the American century fades.
Katy Siegel is the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Endowed Chair in Modern American Art at Stony Brook University and contributing editor at Artforum. She is the author of "The Heroine Paint": After Frankenthaler (2015), and co-author of Art Works: Money (2004).