‘Impossible to sum him up’: Hans Joris Van Miegroet remembered for bridging disciplines, elevating art history at Duke

Hans Van Miegroet speaking at a 2014 symposium at Duke's Fitzpatrick Center on "Frontiers in Photonics Science and Technology."
Hans Van Miegroet speaking at a 2014 symposium at Duke's Fitzpatrick Center on "Frontiers in Photonics Science and Technology."

Hans Joris Van Miegroet, professor of art and art history, is remembered as a pioneer in his field who lived life to the fullest and an innovator who bridged art history and economics with an interdisciplinary approach.

Van Miegroet, 71, died on Feb. 15 in a single-car crash on Academy Road near Duke University Drive. According to police records obtained by The Chronicle, Van Miegroet may have experienced a medical event before crashing into a tree.

He is remembered for contributing to the development of the art, art history and visual studies department, spearheading the department’s relocation to the Smith Warehouse and teaching one of the most popular courses in his department, ARTHIST 231, History of Art Markets.

Beyond his academic contributions, Van Miegroet was known for his vibrant personality and the ways he fostered collaboration between his students and the department. 

Those who knew Van Miegroet applauded his knack for teaching and lecturing, which had a unique power to captivate students and cultivate their interest in disciplines other than their own. Students and faculty described him as a man who “lived many lives.” 

In tributes published on the department’s website, colleagues and students alike shared their memories of Van Miegroet, be it the countless meals they shared, the Excel sheets of his projects attached to his office walls or the stories he shared in his Ghent accent about his early years as a painter and pop singer.

Faculty showed pictures of Van Miegroet in his teenage years performing as a musician and reminisced about his love for art and painting at a potluck held in his memory.

Paul Jaskot, chair of the department of art, art history and visual studies, worked closely with Van Miegroet throughout his time in the department. When he was hired as the director of the Digital Art History & Visual Culture research lab seven years ago, Jaskot already knew that Van Miegroet played a pivotal role in building the digital infrastructure that makes Duke’s art history department unique.

“My first introduction to Hans was a man of great vision that I didn't even realize from the outside,” Jaskot said. “... It was only when I got inside that I realized the scope of what he had accomplished.”

When Duke first hired Van Miegroet in 1988, the AAHVS department was located on East Campus. Van Miegroet, who wanted a space that could facilitate meaningful discourse for students and faculty, set forth to relocate the department to the Smith Warehouse. 

“He really championed [the Smith Warehouse] as both an expansion and an opportunity to really put the different parts of our department in conversation with each other,” said Mark Olson, associate professor of the practice of art, art history and visual studies. “As chair, he was a real leader and entrepreneur in that regard.”

Within the Smith Warehouse, Van Miegroet chose to share his office with his students and used it as an open space for his students to bounce ideas off of each other, with Olson saying that collaboration was regarded as a requirement to be one of his students.

One of Van Miegroet’s biggest contributions to the AAHVS department was his History of Art Markets course, which analyzed the interactions between markets and art cultures and how the markets served to shape those cultures.

Sophia Maldonado, a second-year doctoral student in art history and former teaching assistant for the History of Art Markets course, noted that Van Miegroet had forged Duke’s reputation into one associated with studying art markets.

“He was so full of life, and he had so many ideas,” she said. “... He was very passionate and energetic. You would not think he was a man in his seventies.”

Sophomore Julia Young, who was in Van Miegroet’s graduate-level History of Art Markets class in spring 2024, called him a professor one could instinctively know was a “[genius] in their field.”

“I truly don’t think that there’s another professor that can fill his space,” she said.

Robert Mayhew, a former doctoral advisee of Van Miegroet and associate professor of fine arts at Wake Technical Community College, wrote that Van Miegroet was a man who brought “completely infectious” joie de vivre whenever he spoke, be it in Dutch, French or English. 

“He showed me that it was perfectly OK to simultaneously be a consummate, polished professional while showing an unapologetic, impassioned and almost child-like fascination for what you’re teaching,” Mayhew wrote. 

Van Miegroet hailed from a family of scientists and mathematicians, which encouraged him to explore different disciplinary relationships beyond the approach typically utilized in art history. 

As an innovator who used statistical modeling to analyze the art market, Van Miegroet was known as a pioneer who synthesized qualitative and quantitative methodologies in his scholarship.

“Not every school in the country and certainly not every art history department has somebody who can do that kind of bridging work,” Olson said.

Nubia Nurain Khan, doctoral student in art history and Van Miegroet’s advisee, reminisced about a conference at Louisiana State University that she accompanied Van Miegroet to, where conference attendees regarded his presentation as the gold standard. 

Khan praised Van Miegroet’s data collection, specifically on art auction houses and galleries, and how it has the potential to advance the study of art markets. 

“He was always thinking about the future and was very visionary. I hope his [work] gets well-preserved because his data collection was beautiful, and it needs more attention,” she said. “He wanted others to know how much data he had and what we could do with that.”

Olson said that Van Miegroet could disrupt the status quo, sometimes controversially but always enthusiastically, with the door open to debate and collaboration. Van Miegroet’s method of intersecting the arts with economics facilitated new conversations and challenged assumptions “about how the art world works, both historically and contemporarily,” from computational AI to statistical literacies. 

“In some ways, it's impossible to sum him up,” Olson said. “And I think he would like it that way.”

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Abby Spiller | Editor-at-Large

Abby Spiller is a Trinity sophomore and an editor-at-large of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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