Recent news in History of Art – and wishing you all a good Christmas break!

We are nearing the end of term, and so this will be my last blog posting before we get to the Christmas vacation! I do hope that you’ve all had successful terms – and, especially, that those of you who joined us in October have settled well into your courses. In my first blog posting, I emphasised how much support we can give you as you embark on a new level of study – whatever that level might be – and I do hope that you’ve been keeping in touch with your course directors, personal tutors and/or supervisors with any issues which have come up. Many of you on taught courses will be currently working towards assessments due in either at the end of this term or the beginning of next – and I wish you all the best with those.

It’s been a good term – one of the highlights has definitely been the generous offer from the Art Fund of free National Art Passes for all History of Art students on taught courses at Birkbeck! I do hope that lots of you were able to take up that offer, and are already enjoying free entry into museums and galleries, and discounts on entry into exhibitions. Another highlight has been – as always – the success of students who have completed their programmes of study, which we celebrate at graduation. I congratulated our new BA History of Art graduates in my last blog, but I’m pleased to say that, since then, I’ve been sent a photo of some of them enjoying their success. Well done one and all!

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*             I’ve included a number of success stories in my blog postings over the past few weeks, and it’s nice to be able to write about another one.

Christina Bradstreet did her PhD in History of Art with us here at Birkbeck a few years ago, supervised by Professor Lynda Nead, and her career has gone from strength to strength ever since. She was recently appointed Course and Events Programmer at the National Gallery, and has kindly written about her new role for us. You can also find some of this information on our news pages.

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“I work in the Education department at the National Gallery. I help to produce the adult learning programme, which includes everything from study days to Friday Socials. One minute I am giving a gallery talk or preparing for a course I am teaching on; the next I am generating ideas about how to refresh our programmes and be more innovative in the ways we engage people with art. I love that everyday I’m learning about the collection, which covers European painting from around 1250-1900.

Since I am responsible for ticketed events, there is an emphasis on generating income for the gallery, and I like knowing that my work helps to support the many free learning opportunities provided by the gallery for school children, families and adults.

Studying art history at Birkbeck can lead to a diverse and rewarding career. Since leaving Birkbeck in 2007, my career has spanned academia, museums, schools, the art market and the charity sector. Alongside my job, I serve as Honorary Secretary of the Association of Art Historians, where we are mounting a campaign to promote art history in schools and universities. My first job on completing my thesis, was teaching art history in a school, while lecturing part-time. It was a baptism of fire, but I enjoyed it! After two years, I began a postdoctoral fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art to work on turning my thesis into a book and I’m now in the midst of the publishing process. My most recent job was as Director of Careers at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. This gave me a much broader picture of the wider art world, which helps me in my current role.

My doctoral thesis was on scent in Victorian art and it was later awarded Birkbeck’s Anne Humphreys Prize. Studying for a PhD supervised by Lynda Nead was a phenomenal experience; with her guidance I wrote exactly the thesis that I wanted to write. The period I spent at Birkbeck was a particularly special time in my life; it was wonderful to be able to spend those years devoted to my research and writing!”

*             Finally, before I sign off, I’m conscious that I promised to pick up the story of the School of Arts building which I began in my first blog posting, telling you about the more recent history of our premises. Once again, my account is very much indebted to the factsheet which Victoria McNeile put together when we were included in the Open House Weekend.

In 2007, the College commissioned Surface Architects to rebuild and refurbish a modern extension to the basement and ground floor of the Gordon Square terrace, and parts of the original building. You enter this new area as you go through the foyer and then turn left, moving into a dynamic, brilliantly coloured environment! These circulation and breakout spaces are wrapped around an 80-seat cinema.

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Using a 3D modelling programme, the architects developed the concept of a ‘carved out’ circulation space, following the route of a block as if it were tumbling through the solid mass of the building. The angular and dynamic result is reinforced by those strong contrasting colours and a variety of textures.

You’ll be familiar with the tilted picture window, with the ratio of a cinema screen, which you see as you walk past or go into the cinema. This is the terminating point of a ‘cone of vision’ hinted at in the geometries of the space, and it provides a vista out onto the usually hidden rear spaces, behind the School of Arts, and the backs of the Georgian terrace facing onto Tavistock Square.

The project was awarded an RIBA award (London Region) in 2008.

*             well, it only remains to wish you all a good break over the Christmas vacation, and a very happy new year!

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