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Founded by Douglas Fraser, this seminar addresses major issues in the fields of African, Oceanic, Native American, and pre-Hispanic Latin American arts. The seminar provides an opportunity for members to analyze, evaluate, and discuss new and continuing research, as well as various trends in scholarship. Because the membership is comprised of art historians, curators, archeologists, anthropologists, and other field specialists, seminar meetings frequently involve in-depth discussions of theoretical and methodological issues. The seminar sponsors special symposia on diverse topics; the most recent entitled Art as Identity in the Americas.

Dr. Francesco Pellizzi

Professor Zoë Strother

Professor Lisa Trever

Katherine McCarthy

All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

10/15/2020 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
Playing with Things: Engaging the Moche Sex Pots
Mary Weismantel, Northwestern University

11/05/2020 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
On Oscillation of Value: The Unsettled Market for African Art in the 1920s
Yaëlle Biro, Metropolitan Museum of Art


The sale of John Quinn’s African art collection in the 1920s offers a window onto New York’s burgeoning African art market, its shifting conceptual framework, and its telling market-based consequences. John Quinn (1870-1924), American lawyer and patron of the avant-garde, gathered the largest American private collection of African art of his time, assembling more than thirty works from West and Central Africa over the decade that preceded his death. A regular client of New York’s most adventurous modern art galleries, including those of Alfred Stieglitz, Marius de Zayas, and Robert Coady, Quinn paid these dealers high prices for African works that were promoted for their aesthetic qualities and for what was newly perceived as their role as ignitors of artistic modernity.

Following his death, the collection was dispersed through a series of public and private sales. Re-entering the market, the works were propelled through unexpected journeys that revealed the oscillating nature of their newly acquired status. The co-existence and collusion of two marketplaces became similarly apparent: one where African objects were valued as works of art, and the other where the same works were considered as ethnographic documents. Eventually, some of Quinn’s artefacts continued to navigate the art world, while many others entered ethnographic museums – but not before their monetary value was significantly lowered. Based on extensive archival research, this paper proposes to investigate the physical and conceptual trajectories of some of these works – from the home of an important modern art collector where they neighboured works by the Douanier Rousseau and Constantin Brancusi, to the storage of museums that favoured ethnographic displays. Focusing on the moment when these two marketplaces collided, we hope to raise questions regarding the intrinsic value of things or its contextual relativity.

02/04/2021 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
The Island Deified: Regarding the Symbolism of Caribbean Three-Pointer Stones
Lawrence Waldron, Queens College, City University of New York


The three-pointed or trigonal cemí (icon) is the most iconic yet enigmatic of pre-Columbian Caribbean art objects. Archaeological and ethnographic evidence indicates that these “three-pointers” were of uniquely Antillean origin and part of a dynamic, adaptable religion which persisted for millennia, up to and beyond the Conquest. This pan-Antillean faith centered on a profound and intimate familiarity with the deified island environment, which is connoted in the montane profile of these sacred, often anthropomorphized or zoomorphized objects. While considering their variations on the trigonal design, surface decoration and iconography, this lecture briefly traces the origins, development and ritual use of trigonal cemís as living repositories of divinity and of a distinct regional consciousness.

04/01/2021 Online Meeting
6:30 PM
meeting cancelled