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Department ofArt and Art History


Arts and Ethics

This year the Department inaugurated a new lecture series, Art and Ethics, co-sponsored by SCU’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. The first event featured professor Kate Morris and professor Mario Caro in a panel discussion on the appropriation of Native American culture. Professor Morris raised the interesting case of Jimmie Durham, who has found great professional success as an Indian artist and activist since the 1960s; lately, however, the Cherokee Nation has challenged his identity, noting that he appears on no tribal rolls. This has led to the cancellation of exhibitions of his work. Over 100 people attended this stimulating discussion. Next, on March 2, Dr. Juliet Wiersema tackled the question, “in a society that accepts fake fur, imitation crab, and fake news, what’s wrong with fake art?”

This fascinating talk addressed the ethical conundrums entangling the market for fakes and forgeries of art, especially Precolumbian art. She included an overview of famous cases and noted that fakes (older objects altered to increase their market value) and forgeries (new objects made to pass as originals) pervade collections, both public and private, which underscores the need for art historians and scientists to collaborate in the authentication of objects. Dr. Weirsema drew attention to the fact that artistic ideas and practices which have given rise to the demand for fakes and forgeries in Western culture, do not necessarily occur in other cultures—which produce art in a tradition that makes fakes and forgeries, as we know them, impossible. Her talk raised questions about how fakes and forgeries distort the historical record and thus result in an imprecise understanding of the past, and also of ourselves and others; loosen our hold on reality; and, ultimately, perpetuate forms of cultural injustice. In closing, she called for an open dialogue about forgeries—acknowledging that they exist in museums, collections, in auctions, and online— and presented a path forward for attempting to minimize them. The final event in the series, co-sponsored by the Classics Department and supported by a Hackworth Grant from the Markkula Center, will bring in two curators, Dr. Kenneth Lapatin (Getty) and Dr. Christopher Hallett (UCB) who will be speaking on the ethics of collecting and the black market in antiquities on May 11, 2018. We look forward to extending the series into the 2018-2019 academic year.