Why American art museums are reluctant to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War

150 years ago this month, seven Southern states seceded from the Union, igniting the American Civil War. A defining event in US history, it lasted four years, claimed nearly a million lives, and led to the abolition of slavery. Yet despite its impact even today, there is no major art exhibition planned in the US in 2011.

It was a different story for the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in 2009. Congress created a special commission to plan the nation’s commemoration and there were numerous exhibitions. In Washing­ton, DC, the National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery of Art and National Museum of American History celebrated Lincoln’s life and explored his image.

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