Manufacturing the Modern Patron in Victorian California – ‘an essential monograph’

Manufacturing the modern patron in Victorian CaliforniaPosted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

One year since the publication of John Ott’s Manufacturing the Modern Patron in Victorian California: Cultural Philanthropy, Industrial Capital, and Social Authority, a review written by Bruce Robertson, well-known curator and art historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been published in caa.reviews.

He writes:

‘This tight focus produces excitingly close and complex readings of works and events, offering new insights into well-known objects and actions … it is patronage, not just the collecting of art, that most concerns Ott. And this is what brings the book to life: the cut and thrust of patronage, of clients’ demands and artists’ resistance … and patronage resoundingly resisted by those whom it is supposed to benefit. Abiding within the circumscribed boundaries of his project, Ott succeeds in making major contributions not just as a patronage study, but also in regard to how works of art are produced and disseminated and understood in this period, how visual systems are created and the work they do, how museums grow, and so on. The book becomes an essential monograph for understanding how American visual culture is created and performs in this period.’

John Ott, who is Associate Professor of Art History at James Madison University, received a publication grant for his book from the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. His book uses the example of Central Pacific Railroad executives to rewrite narratives of American art from the perspective of patrons and collectors, rather than the usual art historical protagonists – the artists themselves. The new modern elite classes are shown to use art – regional landscapes, panoramic and stop-motion photography, history paintings of the California Gold Rush, the architecture of Stanford University, and the design of domestic galleries – to legitimise trends in industrial capitalism. Art consumers are thus taken seriously as active contributors to the cultural meanings of artwork.

Robertson ends his review: ‘one thing is for certain, Ott’s book is a worthy successor to [Sarah] Burn’s study [Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age America (New Haven, 1996)], and it should have a similarly galvanizing effect on the field.’ We look forward to seeing the book’s effect on art historical scholarship in the years to come.

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