‘I have the honour to inform you that I have just arrived from Constantinople’: Migration, Identity and Commodity Disavowal in the Formation of the Islamic Art Collection at the V&A

Alyson Wharton-Durgaryan


The relationship of the V&A with three dealers, Krikor Minassian, Hagop Kevorkian and Dikran Kelekian, proffering goods from the Ottoman Empire they had recently fled, provides an interesting case study for viewing asymmetries of power in the 20th-century art world. Referred to by museum staff as ‘foreign merchants’, these dealers went out of their way to prove themselves as collectors. Museum staff continued to view them with suspicion and condescension into the 1930s and even 1950s. Keepers and Directors voiced the opposition of institutional values to the trade, but, after the death of Kelekian in 1951, they showed themselves to be motivated by financial gain. These relations draw attention to the ways in which the museum attempted to demonstrate its hegemony over ‘others’, beyond better-studied colonial relationships. The difference in dealings of these Armenians with American and British institutions indicates at the unusual role of the V&A and its preoccupation with social control.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/mas.v18i2.2369

Copyright (c) 2020 Alyson Wharton

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360