Collecting, Curating, and Consuming American Popular Graphic Arts Yesterday and Today was a symposium in conjunction with Imperfect History: Collecting the Graphic Arts Collection at Benjamin Franklin’s Public Library in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Graphic Arts Department at the Library Company of Philadelphia
Library Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pa., March 25, 2022
In 1876, during the exhibition in Philadelphia in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the republic, Philadelphia Evening Telegram art critic John V. Sears noted, “in Philadelphia today, the scion of art culture … has taken deep root in the homes of the people …. Not so cosmopolitan as New York, nor so thoroughly local in character as Boston, Philadelphia represents American institutions and the progress of American civilization more perfectly than any other of our older cities ….”
Today, nearly one hundred and fifty years later, Philadelphia and the country inhabit a world in which our “art culture” is influenced and inspired by rhetoric and current events challenging our perception, trust in, and inherent understanding of what we see in our daily lives, and in public and private spaces. In this climate, creators, stewards, and collectors of fine and popular art representing and documenting American civilization have begun to question and address their role in a conflicted and diverse democratic society in a tenuous condition. How can a public library founded by Benjamin Franklin and with significant holdings of historical and popular American graphic arts confront this critical period in the history of our country’s evolving democratic principles and art culture?
In response to this salient question and to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Graphic Arts Department, Imperfect History: Curating the Graphic Arts Collection at Benjamin Franklin’s Public Library, is on display September 20, 2021 – April 8, 2022. Imperfect History explores the development of the Library’s graphics art collection as it relates to historical and cultural biases within American history. The exhibition is a candid exploration of the evolution of American graphic arts curatorship and collections in one of the oldest cultural institutions in the country. The Library’s graphic arts collection, including prints, photographs, original works of art, and ephemera primarily dated between the late 18th and mid-20th-century is vital to the understanding of the nation’s complex visual history.
Collecting, Curating, and Consuming American Popular Arts Yesterday and Today continues the conversation started through Imperfect History. The symposium seeks to examine changing and innovative directions in how historical popular graphic art (i.e., art not traditionally classified as fine art, that is representative of popular culture, and/or is mass produced and consumed) is curated, interpreted, and used and understood by those who produced, viewed, and consumed it. Collecting, Curating, and Consuming asks how does historical American popular graphic art act as a mirror, bridge, and barrier in facilitating our visual conceptions of our past and present?
Generously Supported By:
This exhibition and programming 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.