Anthropology Faculty

Pamela Smart  Pamela Smart

   Assistant Professor of Anthropology
   PhD, Rice University, 1997
   Sociocultural anthropologist
   607-777-2100, Science 1, Room 139B

Research interests

Anthropology of artworlds; museums studies; cultural formations of modernity and postmodernity; symbolic economies of exchange and political economies of collecting, patronage and philanthropy under globalization; cultures of expertise.

Pamela Smart received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Rice University. After establishing and directing the Visual Culture program at Otago University, New Zealand, she joined the Binghamton University faculty in 2003 as assistant professor in Anthropology and Art History.

Professor Smart's teaching addresses anthropological approaches to art, artworlds, and aesthetics, along with museum studies, and visual culture more broadly. Her research is concerned centrally with the character of the aesthetic as a socio-cultural phenomenon, and the methodological problem of analyzing it ethnographically. She pursues this interest through the institutional form of the art museum, examining the ways in which aesthetic dispositions are produced through the exhibitionary, managerial, and performative practices of museum personnel, understood in relation to the specific personal aspirations and political economies that animate museums.

Sacred Modern: Faith, Activism, and Aesthetics in the Menil Collection, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011), investigates The Menil Collection, in terms of its particular historical roots, and its distinctive institutional expression. The Menil Collection is underpinned by a complex set of commitments that the museum is called upon to advance. It is predicated on establishing an engagement with its works that is acutely aesthetic rather than pedagogical in character, eschewing the usual museum rendering of art as history. It is the character of this aesthetic, the processes by which it is produced, and the sensibilities that it is meant to generate that are the primary focus of this ethnographic study. It is also centrally engaged with anthropological enquiry into the mutually constitutive character of relationships between persons and objects, and the ways in which material worlds might be mobilized in the service of the sacred.

Her current project, Making the Museum Global, addresses the international ambitions of the Guggenheim Museum, and its experimentation with the form and function of the museum. This project pursues three key lines of inquiry. The first concerns the identification or formulation of an aesthetic that has currency transnationally, and the second, reciprocally, concerns the creation of a transnational public for a museum that must at the same time address local political and cultural imperatives. Thirdly, the Guggenheim (like the Louvre and the Hermitage), in its global franchising of its brand, and the leveraging of its collection, has put pressure on orthodox understandings of art museums as social forms. This study examines this redefinition of the museum, in relation to a constellation of questions that address the political economy that underwrites cultural projects such as this, the distinctive political aspirations of those who seek to host them, along with both the misgivings and the optimism that have attended these projects concerning the role of the museum in civil society.


Sacred Modern: Faith, Activism, Aesthetics in the Menil Collection. (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2011).

"Aesthetics as a Vocation," in Art and Activism: The Projects of John and Dominique de Menil, Laureen Schipsi and Josef Helfenstein, eds. in the The Menil Collection/Yale University Press, 2010, pp. 21-39.

"Possession: Intimate Artifice at The Menil Collection," Modernism/Modernity 13.1 Spring (2006): 19-39.

"Crafting Aura: Art Museums, Audiences, and Engagement," Visual Anthropology Review 16.2 Fall-Winter (2000-2001): 2-24.

"Art of Transport, " Southern Review 33.3 (2000): 292-307.

Exhibitions Curated

Masks: Transforming Journeys, co-curated with Amy Groleau. Roberson Museum, September 7th,2007-April, 2008

Marking Milestones: Rites of Passage as Rituals of Belonging, co-curated with Amy Groleau and David Gerstle, Roberson Museum, March 6th-November, 2009

Last Updated: 8/2/16