American Art Conference Explores What Constitutes a Masterpiece

Organized by Initiatives in Art and Culture, the 24th Annual American Art Conference will be hosted at Bonham’s, New York this month.

An amalgamation of style, artistry, and culture, American art has evolved over time; as a consequence, so too has what constitutes a ‘masterpiece.’ These topics are at the center of “Myth, Mystique, Masterpiece” Initiatives in Art and Culture’s 24th annual American Art conference, which will take place from the evening of Thursday, May 16th through Saturday May 18th, 2019. In addition to exploring the roles of artist, patron, museum, and collector, the conference asks what elements draw artists to subjects, and collectors to works of art? Issues to be considered range from what constitutes fashion, to nostalgia as a force in American art, and the celebration of that which constitutes American myth.  Celebrity is also considered: art and artists play a pivotal role in the creation of celebrities and heroes of the day, in turn often taking starring roles themselves.

“My colleagues and I are delighted to participate in the American Art conference presented annually by Initiatives in Art and Culture. Each year, it fosters an engaging and informative dialogue which supports a better and broader understanding of American artists and our nation’s cultural history. The conference creates a rich environment for debate on American art, which is instrumental in broadening and understanding and appreciation of the field, says Andrew Schoelkopf, Co-founder and Partner, Menconi + Schoelkopf, and President of the Arts Dealers Association of America. He continues, “As the environment and market have evolved dramatically over the past two decades, we find more important than ever the need for and benefit accrued from the conference’s creation of an interactive forum for leading scholars, curators, dealers, collectors, and others to share new ways of thinking about and viewing American art.”

Childe Hassam, Country Fair, New England, 1890. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 20 in. Private collection, courtesy of Michael N. Altman Fine Art & Advisory Services, LLC.

On Thursday, the American Art Conference begins with an evening reception attended by all participants, and a private viewing of the exhibition, “Thomas Hart Benton: Mechanics of Form” at Menconi + Schoelkopf, located at 22 E 80th Street. On Friday and Saturday, formal sessions take place at Bonhams, 580 Madison Ave, with book sales and book signings, as well as informal opportunities to view the American Paintings and Sculpture Exhibition, which opens concurrently.

A group of talks will highlight several American artists. On May 17th, Paul Staiti, Alumnae Foundation Professor of Fine Arts at Mount Holyoke, explores the truth, legend, and art behind John Vanderlyn’s Jane McCrea, immediately followed by Ethan W. Lasser, Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. Curator of American Art, Harvard Art Museum, discussing Winslow Homer and his emphasis on “documenting” in watercolor, oil and engraving. Amanda C. Burdan, Curator, Brandywine River Museum of Art (BRMA), entertains the complexities and contradictions in America’s impressionism, and in Childe Hassam’s art more specifically.

On Saturday Heather Campbell Coyle, Chief Curator and Curator of American art, Delaware Art Museum, will discuss John Sloan’s off-center celebrities, and Ariel Plotek, Curator of Fine Art, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, will discuss Georgia O’Keeffe’s tour de force Ritz Tower. Angela Miller, Professor of Art History, Washington University, St. Louis and Marin R. Sullivan, Director, Harry Bertoia Catalogue Raisonné respectively offer timely considerations of artists whose work is receiving increased attention: the paintings and photographs of Paul Cadmus and his network will be covered by Miller, with Sullivan closing the conference on the topic of Harry Bertoia’s midcentury modernism.

Throughout the two days, the relationship between the history of American art and the network of taste constituted by the interplay of museum, dealer and collector is emphasized, as is the display of works. Farris Wahbeh, Benjamin and Irma Weiss Director of Research Resources, Whitney Museum of American Art, considers the formation of what might be termed the formal discipline of American art in “Molding Scholarship: the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Cultivation of American Modern Art History.” Rebecca Shaykin, Associate Curator, Jewish Museum, New York, addresses the role of the dealer in “Edith Halpert and the Rise of American Art,” while Jan and Marica Vilcek, co-founders, CEO and, Vice-Chairman respectively of the Vilcek Foundation discuss “Collecting Modernism,” in conversation with Andrew Schoelkopf. Schoelkopf says, “This year, I am particularly pleased that we will have the opportunity to celebrate the contributions to the field made by collectors Marica and Jan Vilcek. We will discuss the physical opening of the new headquarters of their foundation in New York, which is transitioning their private collection to a locus of information, publications, and viewing for the enjoyment of American art. The Vilceks have been passionate and learned collectors of American art for more than 25 years, and through their foundation, they are helping the field to rethink scholarship, the canon of American art, and the significant role played by immigrants who influenced and advanced America’s cultural and artistic history.”

Frederic Remington, The Broncho Buster, modeled 1895 (cast before May 1902). Bronze, Roman Bronze Works, Cast number 12, 23 1/4 x 22 x 13 in. The Roath Collection, Denver Art Museum, 2013.91.

R. Ruthie Dibble, Curator, Chipstone Foundation will present trailblazing research on the function and artistry of sculpture pedestals. Importantly, Vincent DiGirolamo, Assistant Professor, History at Baruch College, City University of New York, and Jennifer R. Henneman, Associate Curator, Petrie Institute of Western American Art, Denver Art Museum, will consider the cult of athleticism and the role of myth and nostalgia in American art. For a full list of conference speakers, click here to view the conference brochure.

“For a conference series to survive and thrive for 24 years is a matter of immense achievement for Initiatives in Art and Culture, and a stroke of good luck for loyal attendees. IAC’s American Art Conference has set the bar for a highly cultured discussion on American art that is not reduced to mere pedantry or colored by commercialization of format. Rich content and an atmosphere that begs for deep dialogue among speakers and delegates are the hallmarks of this conference. One leaves the event not just satiated, but more culturally aware and educated on American Art,” says Mickey Alam Khan, Editor in Chief, Luxury Daily.

Lisa Koenigsberg, President of Initiatives in Art and Culture, says, “The art of the United States emerges from, reflects, and changes American culture in all its richness. Initiatives in Art and Culture has been, and will remain, deeply engaged in American art and related topics. We are honored to organize and present the 24th annual American Art Conference. We look ahead with curiosity and anticipation to marking the conference’s quarter century milestone, and to engaging with our country in the exploration that will occur when our nation marks the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 2026.”

Leadership funding for IAC’s American art conference has been provided by The Richard and Jane Manoogian Foundation and The Louis and Lena Minkoff Foundation. Conference sponsors include: ACA Galleries; The Art Newspaper; Avery Galleries; Collisart LLC; Conner – Rosenkranz, LLC; D. Wigmore Fine Art; Freeman’s; George Jeffords; The Gerald Peters Family Art Foundation; Hollis Taggart Galleries; Jonathan Boos; Lowy Frame and Restoring Company; The Magazine ANTIQUES; Marty O’Brien; Menconi + Schoelkopf Fine Art; Questroyal Fine Art; and anonymous donors, as well as support received from, Christie’s, Shannon’s, and Sotheby’s.

Register for “Myth, Mystique, Masterpiece” directly on Eventbrite by clicking here. To learn more about Initiatives in Art and Culture, or inquire about sponsorship opportunities , visit, call 646-485-1952, or email

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