Past Event

University Seminar in Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas: Dr. Megan E. O'Neill, Emory University

November 2, 2023
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
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934 Schermerhorn Hall

Dr. Megan E. O'Neil, Emory University

Making Pre-Hispanic Art through Letters: Dealer Correspondence and Object Transformations

Drawing on the Pierre Matisse Gallery Archives (Morgan Library and Museum) and the Stendahl Art Galleries Records (Getty Research Institute), this paper addresses letters and other documents exchanged between dealers of pre-Hispanic art in the United States and their sources and clients in the mid-twentieth century regarding pieces they were hoping to acquire or sell, which at times involved smuggling items from source countries. I address these letters as a particular genre of writing in which business and personal relations are intertwined, and in which colonial or other geopolitical power structures come to the fore. I consider in particular the ways they speak about objects, and how the terms change depending on who is the correspondent, what is the reason for the exchange, and where the object is in its physical journey or conceptual transformation, for instance, from archaeological artifact to sellable commodity to museum artwork. As such, I discuss how their exchanges transformed individual pieces and contributed to art historical and museum discourse about pre-Hispanic art that persists today.


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