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National Galleries is the first book to undertake a panoramic view of a type
of national institution – which are sometimes called national museums of
fine art – that is now found in almost every nation on earth. Adopting a
richly illustrated, globally inclusive, comparative view, Simon Knell argues
that national galleries should not be understood as ‘great galleries’ but as
peculiar sites where art is made to perform in acts of nation building. A
book that fundamentally rewrites the history of these institutions and
encourages the reader to dispense with elitist views of their worth, Knell
reveals an unseen geography and a rich complexity of performance. He
considers the ways the national galleries entangle art and nation, and the
differing trajectories and purposes of international and national art.
Exploring galleries, artists and artworks from around the world, National
Galleries is an argument about how we think about and study these
institutions. Privileging the situatedness of each national gallery
performance, and valuing localism over universalism, Knell looks
particularly at how national art is constructed and represented. He ends
with examples that show the mutability of national art and by questioning
the necessity of art nationalism.

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