Time to sign up for Arts Week events….

I hope everyone is now settled into the summer term – although I strongly suspect our BA students are feeling far from settled as exam season is just about to start. Good luck with that final push on revision – and with those forthcoming hours in the examination room!

Also imminent is Arts Week, which starts Monday 16th May, and is always an exciting event in the School of Arts calendar – as anyone who’s been at Birkbeck in May in previous years will know. The programme is now live, and I urge you all to go onto the website as soon as you can, browse through the range of tempting events on offer, and to register for as many as possible! Everything is free, as ever, but you do need to reserve a place for anything you want to go along to. For those who haven’t previously been around at this time of year, Arts Week is a time when we showcase our research and teaching interests in the School of Arts, and our relationships with the Creative Arts. There are screenings, workshops, exhibitions, talks, walks….you name it.

Members of the History of Art department are involved in many events taking place across the week. If you’re interested in curating, then do sign up for ‘Curating Difficult Objects’ on the Monday, when Gabriel Koureas and Lynn Nead will be joining Anthony Bale from the Department of English and Humanities to talk about exhibitions of controversial or uncomfortable objects on which they have each worked. Lynn has also organised a panel discussion on the Tuesday, which will look at how film can create new forms of research, and new ways of looking at research materials. Gabriel, meanwhile, has also put together a roundtable discussion on the concept of identity as constructed and performed through social rituals on the Thursday evening, planned to coincide with the exhibition, RELAPSE – Identity, which has just opened in the Peltz Gallery. And he’s finding the energy to participate in another event, around artist-researcher collaborations! Meanwhile, if photography is one of your particular interests, then do look at details of a session organised around ‘Photographic Experience of Space’, on the Monday.

Those colleagues who run the Architecture, Space and Society Research Centre have put together a particularly impressive number of events. Our own Fiona Candlin and Leslie Topp will be joined by Swati Chattopadhyay for a discussion, on the Wednesday, of small spaces, from bookshelves through to cells to micromuseums. How do such spaces shape solitary pursuits and social interactions, and how might they inflect our studies of museums, art and architecture? The ASSC has also organised walking tours – two exploring architectural modernism in Bloomsbury (on the Tuesday and Wednesday), and one around Covent Garden (the latter led by one of my own PhD students, Thom Braun). Finally, they’re hosting a lecture being given by Professor Mark Crinson, on the Thursday, entitled ‘Brutalism: From New to Neo’. In this, Professor Crinson will ask: What was Brutalism? And why does it still seem to separate us into either ardent advocates, or angry critics?

Crinson talk image

We’re all particularly excited about this lecture in the History of Art department, as Mark Crinson will be joining us in July, as our new Professor in the History and Theory of Architecture! This will be one of our first chances to offer him a warm welcome to the department. His arrival will be quickly followed by that of another new colleague, Professor Steve Edwards, one of the most acclaimed international scholars in the History and Theory of Photography, who, I’m delighted to say, will be joining us in September.


I have news this week from a couple of MA students from the department – one who completed the MA History of Art programme a few years ago, and one currently studying for her Masters in History of Art with Photography.

The current student is Annette Waywell who, when she’s not at Gordon Square or working on her latest piece of coursework, is Learning Manager at Somerset House. In that capacity, she wrote a proposal to win artist Bedwyr Williams staging a ‘druidic open mic comedy night’ onsite for Museums at Night – and it’s been shortlisted! I shall pass you over to Annette to tell you more about it, and to persuade you to put in a vote ….

“The competition is an annual element of Museums at Night, which takes place in the UK every May and October, encouraging new and existing audiences to explore galleries and museums across the country ‘after hours’. It’s described by Culture 24, the funders,  as a ‘Lates Festival for the culturally curious’.

Part of the festival is an initiative called Connect, in which high profile contemporary artists propose a Museums at Night artwork or intervention. Any venue can then respond to that proposal, describing why their gallery or museum would be the perfect choice to host it. The artist shortlists their favourites, and it is put to a public vote. The venue with the most votes wins the artist, and the event, plus substantial funding to stage it. 

This year there were six Connect artists, including Marcus Coates and Susan Hiller, who had submitted a range of ideas – from an exhibition of sacred water to ultraviolet portraiture, all to take place at the end of October. 

Performance artist Bedwyr Williams’s proposal had a spirit of improvisation and live performance that seemed best suited to Somerset House’s historic site. We’ve now had our bid shortlisted alongside two regional galleries – but both have successfully won Connect artists in previous years, so they clearly have a sound voting strategy! This is a brilliant opportunity to work alongside an artist to help fulfil his vision from concept to fruition. Plus, an open-mic druidic comedy evening with prehistoric snacks will make for a memorable evening… So we hope everyone will vote for us (even though it will make my autumn very busy).”

So, if you like the sound of pagan performance in London (we are on a ley-line apparently!), please cast a vote by 14th May…


The member of our alumni who has been in touch recently is Elizabeth Fullerton, a student on the part-time MA History of Art between 2011 and 2013. I am delighted to tell you that she has just published a book on BritArt, and with no less major a publisher than Thames and Hudson! (Jennifer Sprackling, one of our recently graduated BA students, now also on the MA programme, helped with transcribing the interviews which underpin the book.)

“In 2011, I left my job as a journalist with Reuters and began my part-time MA in History of Art, while writing simultaneously for the American magazine ARTnews. I absolutely loved the MA at Birkbeck – every module was so enriching, I never wanted it to end. About halfway through the course ARTnews commissioned me to write a profile of Grayson Perry. I decided that the interview would dovetail well with my research project, which I did on Perry’s fantastic exhibition at the British Museum, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. For the profile I interviewed Jacky Klein, who had written the only monograph on Perry; we got chatting and she said we should stay in touch as she happened to be commissioning editor at Thames and Hudson. I did stay in touch and in one of our chats we discussed the fact that so many accounts, for and against, had been written of BritArt, but there had been no impartial history of the phenomenon. About half way through my final year on the MA, I was commissioned by T&H to write that book, which has just been published as Artrage! The Story of the BritArt Revolution

Artrage! (taken from a Sun headline around the time of the 1997 Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts) chronicles the rise to prominence of the YBAs from the landmark warehouse show Freeze, curated by Damien Hirst in 1988, to the Momart fire of 2004 that destroyed many of the group’s works and seemed to symbolise their fading from centre stage. Through interviews with around 50 key players (including 35 artists from Hirst,Tracey Emin and the Chapmans to Michael Landy, Rachel Whiteread and Douglas Gordon), I have aimed to bring the period to life, exploring iconic artworks, seminal exhibitions and colourful characters within the political, cultural and economic context of the late 1980s and 1990s. From the core of the group to its fringes, Artrage! examines the diversity of the art produced in the period and the impact these artists had on British culture.”

Fullerton book

More History of Art news in a fortnight!