PLAN 71: Article
New Faculty: Kristel Smentek

Historian of Eighteenth-Century European Visual Culture

Kristel Smentek has been appointed an assistant professor of art history in the History Theory and Criticism program of the Department of Architecture. An historian of eighteenth-century European visual culture, Smentek specializes in the history of collecting, the art market and the European encounter with non-Western art.

According to program director Caroline Jones, 'Smentek's interest in mounting, framing, arranging and assembling - as well as in the epistemologies that undergird such operations - will bring an exciting perspective to us. We're delighted to have her join us to teach the history of design, interiors and material studies in the context of a rigorous history of art.'

Smentek received a BA in Art History from McGill (1991, first class honors); an MA in Art History (1996) and a PhD in Art History (2008), both from the University of Delaware. While her research and curatorial work is anchored in the eighteenth century, her teaching bridges the modern and early modern periods, spanning the centuries between 1600 and the present, and touching on most of Western Europe and its non-European points of contact.

Her PhD dissertation investigates the role of Pierre-Jean Mariette, a celebrated but poorly understood eighteenth-century print dealer, publisher and connoisseur of art and antiquities. The aim is to illuminate the development of art history by understanding the distinct agendas of such eighteenth-century cultural agents.

In her other publications, and in the exhibitions she has curated, Smentek explores two other themes central to her work - the role of the market in structuring the reception of art, and cross-cultural dimensions of eighteenth-century European art.

In a 2007 exhibit she curated at the Frick Collection, she examined the eighteenth-century French fascination with Asia as manifested in a set of cut and mounted Chinese porcelains. She also explores European engagement with the Ottoman Empire in her ongoing investigation of the eighteenth-century Swiss painter Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), who called himself 'the Turk'; Liotard's work was showcased in another exhibition she helped organize at the Frick in 2006.

Smentek is currently exploring eighteenth-century European responses to Asian art, a project that marries her previous research on European networks of collectors and connoisseurs to her evolving interest in global trade and the place of Asian art in European theory and artistic practice.

Working with painting, prints and decorative arts - and grounded in an archival exploration of collectors' inventories, auction catalogues and the contemporary commercial press - her research explores the mutual cultural curiosity that scholars have recently posited as characteristic of the eighteenth century. Unusually, she is also committed to exploring Asian criteria for collecting their own materials, as well as their responses to influxes of European art.

Smentek was previously a lecturer at the Parson's/Cooper-Hewitt Master's Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design (2008); an Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow at The Frick Collection (2005-2007); and a lecturer in the art department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (2003-2004).