Department of History of Art

Art and the American Midwest

Jeff Brouws, Harvest, North Dakota, 2009. Courtesy the artist.

Art and the American Midwest

This project investigates the ways in which the American Midwest has been represented, visualised, and staged in art and visual culture.



Whilst considerable scholarly attention has recently been paid to the artistic role of the west coast, in particular California, the Midwest remains a neglected topic that has tended to be framed stereotypically as a place left behind by young artists emigrating to the coasts. On the contrary, a number of modern and contemporary artists have made work that engages with the region in a number of ways, including its industrial, urban, and suburban landscape, its regional industry and institutions, and its historical role in the development of the Western frontier.

This project considers the various ways in which the cultural, economic, geographic and topographic specificity of the Midwest has been reflected in art and cultural production both within the region and without, and investigates what the Midwest has represented in the American cultural imaginary.

Jeff Brouws, Grain Elevators, Stanley, North Dakota, 2009. Courtesy the artist.

Jeff Brouws, Grain Elevators, Stanley, North Dakota, 2009. Courtesy of the artist.


Research topics include:

  • visual representations of the Midwest and its regions
  • discourses of the frontier in regional cultural identity
  • the “Midwestern diaspora” in art and visual culture
  • cultural formations of the Midwest nationally and internationally
  • Midwest as cultural metaphor

International visiting fellows profiles

In 2014, three members of the project team are in residence at the University of Nottingham under the Fulbright Visiting Fellowship scheme and the International Office Visiting Fellowship Scheme.

Professor Joni L. Kinsey (University of Iowa): Kinsey focuses her research on nineteenth-century landscape painting and western art.

She is the author of four books, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992); Plain Pictures: Images of the American Prairie (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996); The Majestic Grand Canyon: 150 Years in Art (First Glance Books, 1998), and most recently Thomas Moran's West: Chromolithography, High Art, and Popular Taste (University Press of Kansas, 2006). Recent articles include: "Cultivating Iowa: An Introduction to Grant Wood," in Grant Wood’s Studio: Birthplace of American Gothic, edited by Jane Milosch, with Wanda Corn and James M. Dennis. Prestel Publishing, 2005); and "I Wished for the Pencil of Salvator Rosa: The Artistic Legacy of Lewis and Clark" in Finding Lewis and Clark: Old Trails, New Directions, edited by James Ronda and Nancy Tystad Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2004). Professor Kinsey is also the curator of the Eve Drewelowe Collection, a remarkable corpus of hundreds of paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and personal effects of Iowan painter Eve Drewelowe, who bequeathed the collection to the School of Art and Art History in the late 1980s. Kinsey is a Fulbright Visiting Fellow to the University of Nottingham in Spring 2014.


Dr Corey Dzenko (University of North Carolina, Greensboro): Dzenko’s current project analyses South Korean-born, New York City-based Nikki S. Lee's The Ohio Project (1999)

Dzenko considers how the artist's representations of white Ohioans replicate dominant U.S. ideals of identity--not those of "post-identity" as the artist's performances are often positioned, but those created through the relational constructions of race, class, gender, sexuality, and place. This case study forms one chapter of Dzenko's current book project in which she argues that, despite all of the recent attention paid to “identity” in art history, “mainstream” ideals of “normativity” have yet to be fully analysed as subject positions from which artistic examinations begin. To counter this gap in art historical scholarship and larger U.S. culture, Dzenko draws from a range of critical theories as she examines contemporary constructed photographs by Lee as well as Suzanne Opton, Gregory Crewdson, and Kerry Skarbakka. In the fall of 2014, Dzenko will join the faculty at Monmouth University as an Assistant Professor of Art History.



Dr Emily Burns (Auburn University):  Burns is currently working on a book project on the visual culture of the American West in the French Imagination in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Her research has uncovered a preference in many French sources for the landscapes more typically associated with the American Midwest, such as the prairie and the Plains Indians, than with the mountainous far West. This summer, she will be working on parsing out cultural discourses around the Midwest for French artists and filmmakers, Oglala Lakota performers travelling with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, and American artists working in Paris.


Project team

  • Dr Lucy Bradnock (University of Nottingham)
  • Dr Mark Rawlinson (University of Nottingham)
  • Professor Joni L. Kinsey (University of Iowa)
  • Dr Emily Burns (Auburn University)
  • Dr Corey Dzenko (University of North Carolina, Greensboro)

NottsArtHistory blog

Department of History of Art

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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