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On Taste and Nation


This dissertation explores the material, visual, and aesthetic dimensions of cultural consensus and distinction in emblematic domestic spaces, from the White House’s chambers of respectability to the pleasures and perils of the modern Los Angeles bedroom, to the candy- colored architectural shell of the average New Jersey tract home, and, finally to the pedagogical and progressive labors that shape the televisual Cold War kitchen. From television, design, and architecture to video, pop and conceptual art, these case studies deliver determinations of taste shaped by nostalgia couched in the language of “tradition” as well as ironic and polemical commentary on the outcomes and objects of the accessible aesthetics, lifestyles, and origins of the cultural “middlebrow.” This dissertation argues for the centrality of domestic taste in the forging of national belonging during the turbulent 1960s. Through an analysis of the sway of domestic taste in Cold War visual culture, its consumption, and reception across these case studies, this dissertation offers a new reading of the art of the sixties—often conceived of as delivering a liberal critique of society—as mired in anxieties around the nation’s ever widening discourses of inclusion and identity. These works and projects face the radical futurity of the American 1960s and the expansion of social programming that sought to eradicate poverty and include minorities into the postwar dream of middle class life and materialize anxieties about the quality of life in the age of television and nuclear war and white middle class identity manifest in the confluence of debates over taste, national identity, tradition, and history.

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