Imperfect History Comes to a Close with Symposium

On March 25, with generous support from the Walter J. Miller Trust, the virtual symposium Collecting, Curating, and Consuming American Popular Graphic Arts Yesterday and Today auspiciously concluded the programming for the Imperfect History exhibition funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. Over the course of three panels, nine presenters from the curatorial, academic, and library fields examined changing and innovative directions in how historical popular graphic art is curated, interpreted, and used and understood by those who produced, viewed, and consumed it.

Continuing the conversation started through the project that explored the development of the Library Company’s graphic arts collection as it relates to historical and cultural biases within American history, Collecting, Curating, and Consuming facilitated challenging and insightful conversations about how historical American popular graphic art acts as a mirror, bridge, and barrier in facilitating our visual conceptions of our past and present.

The keynote lecture by Harvard Art Museums Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography Dr. Makeda Best that reflectively addressed the historical role of the photographic archive as a tool for teaching set the tone for the day. The presentations that followed examined themes of the complexity of intersections of race, gender, and class in historical collection building and research; equity in curation; and the sociopolitics of the visual rhetorics of mass-produced graphics. Numerous dialogues ensued, including about how to navigate the stewardship, exhibition, and research of graphic materials that can cause harm, and what is entailed, and needs to change, in responsibly facilitating curatorial and community engagements with popular graphic art when serving as educational tools. The presentations also evoked a questioning of the definition of visual literacy and its relationship to an individual’s knowledge of history.

The conversation started by Imperfect History, which closed on April 8, was duly continued by the exchanges fostered by Collecting, Curating, and Consuming. The exhibition in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Graphic Arts Department and in support of the mission of the Visual Culture Program could not have ended in a more meaningful way to acknowledge the multi-layered history and the evolving future of the collecting of graphic arts at the Library Company.

A recording of the symposium is below:

For more information about the Graphic Arts Department, visit

For more information about the Visual Culture Program, visit

Erika Piola

Curator of Graphic Arts and Director, Visual Culture Program

Imperfect History is supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, Walter J. Miller Trust, Center for American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Jay Robert Stiefel and Terra Foundation for American Art.

Henry Luce Foundation Logo