The art of reconciliation
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An examination of the visual culture of the New Orleans’ World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition is revelatory of the formation of American attitudes about race, ethnicity, aesthetics, and regional as well as national identity. Overlooked in the American art historical scholarship on world’s fairs, the New Orleans event was one of a number of regional and international expositions held in the United States between Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893 that endeavored to promote regional reconciliation after the Civil War and establish a cohesive national identity. Although the relationship between developments in the fine arts in the United States and world’s fairs held there is an established part of American art historical scholarship, there has been no art historical scholarship on the fine arts exhibition at the New Orleans fair. This dissertation seeks to cast light on that fine arts exhibition in the context of the New Orleans world’s fair. To do this effectively the visual culture of the fair itself requires exploration. The buildings, fairgrounds, various displays created by the states and the United States government, and magazine illustrations created to cover the event, provide a broader socio-historical context in which to consider the art exhibited. This will, in turn, illuminate the national commercial and cultural agenda in which artistic production took place, as well as the role played by the New Orleans fair in the promotion of regional reconciliation during the postbellum era, the establishment of a singular national identity, and fair’s place in the development of American art.