Kristel Smentek is an historian of eighteenth-century European visual culture with specializations in the history of collecting, the art market, and the European encounter with Asia. Smentek has received several fellowships and awards from the Council of Graduate Schools/UMI, the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery, Washington, DC, among others.
In her first book, Mariette and the Science of the Connoisseur in Eighteenth-Century Europe (Ashgate, 2014), she analyzes the transformation of scholarly discourse on art in Enlightenment Europe through an investigation of the celebrated eighteenth-century print dealer, book publisher, and connoisseur of art and antiquities, Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694-1774). Her work situates Mariette’s praxis within the intellectual and social structures of the eighteenth century and elucidates the historically specific meanings of collecting and connoisseurship as forms of knowledge and social distinction. Mariette’s own scholarship and his ambivalence about the market he helped bring into being provide the context for an examination of the emergence of ‘art’ and ‘aesthetics’ as categories of intellectual inquiry and the ideological opposition of both to commerce in an era of consumer revolution.
In her new book project, Objects of Encounter: China in Eighteenth-Century France, Smentek analyzes European engagements with Asian objects in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and their impact on continental art and aesthetic theory. This project unites two central themes of her research: the role of the market in structuring the reception of art and the cross-cultural dimensions of eighteenth-century European artistic production. In an article published in 2003 in the exhibition catalogue Colorful Impressions: The Printmaking Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France (National Gallery of Art, 2003), Smentek analyzed the marketing of new color printmaking technologies in the late ancien régime. Another article on the role of fashion and novelty in the print market of the 1780s was published in Genre Painting in Eighteenth-Century France (Studies in the History of Art, 2007).
In her exhibition and catalogue, Rococo Exotic: French Mounted Porcelains and the Allure of the East (The Frick Collection, NYC, March-September 2007), she examined the eighteenth-century French fascination with Asia as manifested in mounted Chinese porcelains. European engagement with the visual culture of the Ottoman Empire is the subject of her article on the eighteenth-century self-described "Turkish" painter Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), published in Ars Orientalis in 2010. Liotard’s work was showcased in an exhibition she helped organize at the Frick in 2006.
While her research and curatorial work is anchored in the eighteenth century, Smentek’s teaching bridges the modern and early modern periods. She has taught courses on European visual culture from the Renaissance to the present, on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European painting, ornament from the Rococo to the 1920s, the history and theory of the art museum, and the Asian-European encounter in the eighteenth century.