What is Populist Art

From the agrarian People’s Party of the late nineteenth century to the presidential election of 2016, populism has taken many forms in America. In his book What Is Populism?—the Princeton “Pre-read” for the incoming Class of 2021—Princeton University Professor Jan-Werner Müller delineates an illiberal form of populist ideology that rejects pluralism and excludes along ethnic, religious, and moral lines. Whether on the right or the left, the populist leaders Müller describes identify themselves as antielite voices for a homogenous people while refusing to legitimate any opposition. At a time when populism is on the rise across the globe, interrogating this political ideology is critical to preserving democratic ideals. “For democracy,” Müller says, “requires pluralism and the recognition that we need to find fair terms of living together as free, equal, but also irreducibly diverse citizens.” These selections from the Museum’s collections grapple with two different manifestations of populism in American history and art.

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