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Pamela G. Smart

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Art History

Office: FA-305
Phone: 607-777-5086
Specialization: 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 MA and PhD 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.

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, Aesthetics, (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, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi: Making the Museum Global, addresses the international ambitions of the Guggenheim Museum, focusing on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. 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 massive cultural projects such as this and the distinctive political aspirations of those who seek to host them.


Sacred Modern: Faith, Activism, Aesthetics. (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. 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

Courses Taught

Undergraduate Lecture Courses

Introduction to Visual Anthropology (200 level)

Visualizing Differences (300 level)

Anthropology of Art and Museums (300 level)

Undergraduate and Graduate Seminars

Cultures of Collecting (400 and 500 level)

Aesthetics, Politics, and Religion (400 and 500 level)

On Value (400 and 500 level)

Anthropology of Art and Museums (500 level)


Last Updated: 5/2/18