Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Anna Chave

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


This dissertation maps the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's important yet uncharted exhibition history during the period of the directorships of James Johnson Sweeney (1952-1960) and Thomas M. Messer (1961-1988), comparing the museum's approach to exhibiting contemporary art to that of rival institutions. An argument is made for the singularity of the Guggenheim's exhibition program in light of its commitment to internationalism and pluralism. Through its dedication to internationalism, the Guggenheim imported and promoted artwork from regions overlooked by comparable institutions, especially Latin America and Eastern Europe, while encouraging international dialogue among artists and institutions. Pluralism, in its early application at the Guggenheim, allowed for the exhibition of art that expanded then-current conceptions of modern art. This dissertation also demonstrates the limitations of the Guggenheim's internationalism and pluralism, mainly its inability to see past its Western-centric view when creating exhibitions of international art, and an uncritical implementation of pluralism that often resulted in a seemingly arbitrary assortment of exhibited work without a meaningful curatorial framework. Through extensive use of archival sources, this dissertation examines dozens of the Guggenheim's exhibitions of contemporary art, providing an understanding of the programmatic nature of the Guggenheim's exhibition history over more than three decades. Finally, this dissertation contextualizes the Guggenheim's later global corporate model as having been predicated in part upon this earlier history.

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