Art history has traditionally been organized around nation states and national identity as well as religions and their iconographies, while adhering to a strict hierarchy of genres. The current mandate for globalism and trans-nationalism interrogates these foundations of the field, but has yet to offer successful paradigms for the study of art and art history. Prevailing postmodern metaphors of "deterritorialization" and "unboundedness," for example, have demonstrated inherent weaknesses. Utilizing ARTstor, I preview an alternative model for a New Geography of Art I am elaborating with visual historiographer James L. McElhinney, which provided the foundations for a lecture course I am teaching (Spring 2010). It focuses on the Circum-Atlantic Triangle Trade in Sugar (or its liquid form, molasses) from the Caribbean to Europe (or New England), where it was distilled into rum, some of which was used to purchase new slaves in Africa. By 1860, Brooklyn was the sugar refining capital of the world and following the Spanish American War (1898), New York City became the de-facto capital of the growing Caribbean Empire. This sugar slave trade also generated a substantial body of art across the Americas, from Boston colonial John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark (1778) to Afro-Cuban photographer Marķa Magdalena Campos-Pons's Trade Routes, and bankrolled major collectors such as the Havemeyers.
Once art historians venture beyond the usual taxonomies of artist or stylistic category, how do we identify new rubrics and the myriad related artworks for potential study? Using the vast resources of ARTstor, I have been able to use key search words to compile a series of intersecting image groups that provide the building blocks for the historic background, individual lectures, and student projects that made up my course, Sweet Fortunes. Part of the value of these image groups lies in their trans-national character. My image groups — named Caribbean, Material Culture, Plantations, MapleBeet and Kitchens — allow users to traffic back and forth across national borders to arrive at new cultural and artistic relationships. Other groups, including History, Slavery, and Colonial Americas, demonstrate parallel historic forces operative in various locales around the Atlantic. Without such an extensive and easily searchable database, it would be impossible to cull objects from North, Central, and South America called for by new global agendas. Image groups entitled WinslowHomer or HavemeyerCollection adhere to more conventional units of artist or collector, but indicate the breadth of a single painter's work in the Caribbean, or the stunning range of objects collected by this sugar magnate. Major artworks produced across the Americas, from Copley's Watson and the Shark (1778), Homer's Gulf Stream (1899), and O'Keeffe's Pineapple Bud (1940) to Oller's Hacienda Aurora (1899), Enrique's Abduction of the Mulatas (1938) and Lam's The Jungle (1943) owe their common subject and iconography to the trade between the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean. These overlapping image groups provide essential templates for emerging scholarship in the visual culture of the western hemisphere.
Image caption: John Singleton Copley | Watson and the Shark, 1778 | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston | This image was provided by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Contact information: Debra LaKind, Head of Rights & Licensing, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, (617) 369-4386 (ph), (617) 369-4340 (fax), email@example.com