Laura Elliott

Research Group: Visual & Material Culture Research Centre
Award studied: PhD

Project title

The V&A and Transatlantic Exchanges in 'Modern' Art and Design 1945-1955


The first decade after the Second World War was a vital one for Anglo American relations, as the Cold War set in. Leading art museums in the UK and US were viewed during this time as highly influential to their country's aims of reconstruction and modernisation. My research is the first to examine how national art museums in the UK, predominantly founded in the nineteenth century, responded to this challenge in view of an increasingly assertive 'modern' art museum scene in the US.

Using the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, a museum closely identified with the Victorian era, to illustrate these responses, themes of national and international reconstruction, transnationalism and cultural exchange inform discussions on ideological and technical aspects of museum modernisation. I will be using the V&A also to present new perspectives of art museums across the Atlantic where previously these have been viewed apart. My research objectives are to bring together and contribute to several main areas:

» The V&A understood as contemporary to the twentieth century, but coming from a radically different tradition and perspective to modern art museums in the US
» The rebranding of art museums in the post-War period and the political, economic and social implications of this for museum development
» The issue of museums being framed within different periods of art history; most typically as 'historical', 'modern' or 'contemporary' in terms of national identity, heritage and contemporary culture
» Consideration of communications strategies and technologies used by the museums to negotiate specific ideologies and to disseminate them more widely nationally and internationally

Considering main areas posed so far, my research questions are:
1. How far was the V&A's modernisation after the War an attempt to reposition and rebrand itself in response to new museum developments in the US?

2. What evidence is there of renewed interest by governments and, or private interest, in the UK and US after the War in modern art and design as a means to regenerate industry and simultaneously spread democratic ideals?

3. To what extent was museum practice in the UK and US negotiated through national interest or organisations such as UNESCO's international museum programme?

4. To what extent was there consensus between the governments of the UK and US about the role of art museums in circulating 'official' ideas about modern art and its assumed audiences?

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Laura Elliott