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The Firefly, 1907, by George Henry Seeley. Photogravure from Camera Work, October 1907 (Clark Art Institute)

The Lure of the Object

April 30 - May 1, 2004

A lure is something that tempts or attracts with the offer of pleasure or reward, a promise sometimes false, sometimes kept, and sometimes broken. This conference asked how art history finds, loses, or gives itself away in the face of its objects.

This Clark Conference, convened by Stephen Melville, brought together curators, conservators, and scholars from several disciplines in the humanities to consider how artists, the public, and art historians encounter objects. How are art and art history shaped by the confrontation with the object--painted, drawn, and sculpted; lost, found, and ready-made; exhibited and conserved; made and unmade?

Participants included:
Emily Apter, New York University; George Baker, Independent Scholar, NYC; Malcolm Baker, Victoria and Albert Museum, UK; John Brewer, California Institute of Technology; Martha Buskirk, Montserrat College of Art; Margaret Iverson, University of Essex, UK; Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Harvard University; Karen Lang, University of Southern California; Mark Meadow, University of California at Santa Barbara; Stephen Melville, The Ohio State University; Helen Molesworth, Wexner Center for the Arts; Marcia Pointon, The University of Manchester, UK; Christian Scheidemann, Contemporary Conservation, NY; Edward Sullivan, New York University; Martha M. Ward, University of Chicago

In order of discussion

Commerce and Context

The Lure of Leonardo: Two Belles Ferronieres in the 1920s
John Brewer

The Private Property of the Subject
Emily Apter

Samuel Quiccheberg, the Wunderkammer, and the Copious Object
Mark Meadow

Naturalezas Mexicanas: Objects as Cultural Signifiers in Mexican Art, c. 1750-1850
Edward J. Sullivan

After the Object

Material as Language in Contemporary Art
Christian Scheidemann

The Work of Art in the Age of Visual Culture: France in the 1930s
Martha Ward

Photography’s Expanded Field
George Baker


Object Histories and the Materiality of the Sculptural Object
Malcolm Baker

Encountering the Object
Karen Lang

The Object as Subject
Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Professor of History of Art, Harvard University

Lost and Found

The Surrealist Situation of the Photographed Object
Margaret Iversen

Part Object/Part Sculpture
Helen Molesworth

Conference Response and Discussion
Opening responses Martha Buskirk and Marcia Pointon