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Heghnar Watenpaugh Workshop: “The Social Lives of Art Objects”

October 24, 2019 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

In recent years art historians have paid renewed attention to dimensions of the life of art objects beyond the moment of their creation. In a book interrogatively entitled What Do Pictures Want? (2005), WJT Mitchell suggested that depictions have ‘lives’ and that these lives are only partly controlled by those who create art objects – artists or patrons. We humans may create images; but, once created, objects exist in the social world independently of their creators. One way in which art historians have studied the biographies of objects has been through the study of provenance – an area of art history that has attracted critical attention recently (Feigenbaum, and Reist). Provenance, often presented as a dry list of successive owners of an art object, can reveal much more – an “alternative history of art.” Disagreements over provenance are often at stake in disputes over the ownership of an object and often figure in restitution battles. In this workshop we will consider the social lives of art objects, broadly conceived, and the place of provenance in contemporary art historical debates.


Gail Feigenbaum, and Inge Reist, “Introduction,” pp 0-4 and Gail Feigenbaum, “Manifest Provenance,” 6-28, in Gail Feigenbaum and Inge Reist, eds. Provenance: An Alternate History of Art (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2013).

Heghnar Watenpaugh, “Prologue” and “Chapter 1: Survivor Objects,” in The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2019)

*If you would like to attend the workshop or receive PDF copies of the readings, please RSVP to cvc@mailplus.wisc.edu.