Can you believe the break only ended 2 weeks ago? I’m always amazed at how all-absorbing term-time is – I hope it’s all-absorbing for you in a good way!

I’ll begin with a request: we are eager to hear from those of you who are in your final year of your BA studies about how things have gone, and how we can support you as you complete your degree. You’ll have had an invitation to a feedback gathering (if you’re a BA final year student and haven’t had an invitation, please email me: l.topp@bbk.ac.uk). You will soon be asked, by Ipsos-Mori no less, to complete the National Student Survey, which opens this Thursday 25 January and closes on 30 April. You may find me mentioning it quite a bit between now and then…

In a month’s time we’ll be absorbed again in the department’s 50th anniversary events – a 3-day bonanza this time on 22-24 February, kicking off with Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A (and erstwhile member of the Labour shadow cabinet) giving the Anniversary Lecture on ‘Design for a Nation: The Victoria and Albert Museum in the 21st Century’ on the 22nd at 6pm. On the 23rd and 24th we’ll have four fascinating workshops with our own academics joined by experts from the worlds of museums, media and publishing to put our collective finger on the pulse of the discipline and of the museum world we all engage with. Bookings (made via the link above) are very strong – if you can’t get a place for your chosen event, do add your name to the waiting list, since a place may well come up.

And a couple of good things sooner than that:

Birkbeck History of Art PhD Nicola McCartney is now Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Central Saint Martins, and is coming back to Birkbeck to give a talk on ‘Trans and Art’ on Thursday 1 Feb 6.30pm – more details here.

And then on 6 February, 6-7.30 in Keynes we have the next event organised by the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre: Elizabeth Johnson (Associate Research Fellow, Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology) speaking on
The Touch of Light: Bruce Nauman’s Holograms

Meanwhile our colleague Kasia Murawska-Muthesius will be exploring Europe: She will deliver one of the key-note lectures in the Alterity and the Research Imagination conference https://alterityresearchimagination.wordpress.com/, organised by graduate students of the School of Human Sciences, at Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon, 25 -26 January 2018. Her talk, entitled ‘Welcome to Slaka, or, the battle of dust-jackets’, (click through to image below) draws from her research on imaging Eastern Europe, and will focus on the use of postcolonial discourse analysis to East European studies. The following week, she will be travelling to Vilnius, invited by the Vilnius National Gallery and the curators of the Oskar Hansen exhibition, to deliver a lecture ‘In the circle of the Open Form: Vilnius, Hoglands & Hansen’s counter-memorial in Auschwitz’, which takes her back to her past research on the encounters between Henry Moore and a visionary Polish architect and urban planner Oskar Hansen.

Slide from Kasia’s lecture

Our best museums are clearly absorbed in getting you students into their exhibitions – the lastest offer comes from the National Gallery:

The National Gallery would like to extend an invitation to your students for complimentary entry to our latest exhibition, Monochrome: Painting in Black and White, which explores why have artists chosen to paint in black and white over the last 700 years, from van Eyck, Rembrandt, Dürer, and Ingres to Picasso, Malevich, Richter, and Riley.
In order to take up this offer, students will need to show a valid student card to obtain a complimentary ticket from the exhibition ticketing desk in the Sainsbury Wing. The show closes on 18 February.

Another of the big beasts of the London museum scene, Tate, has had the benefit of one of our students, Julija Svetlova, who has recently completed the MA History of Art. Here she is with a guest post on her experience there as a volunteer guide, with a photo of her in action with an absorbed audience (photographer Vickie Flores) and of one of the objects she mentions below.

‘In February of 2016, I applied for a role as Guide at Tate Modern. My application was successful, and I went for an interview for which I had to prepare a five-minute presentation on Man Ray’s surrealist sculpture, Cadeau. I then went through twelve weeks of training, alongside the other prospective guides, and then successfully passed all the tour reviews.

My first experience of addressing the general public was during the Tate Modern extension’s opening week. I did a series of ten-minute talks about the photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher. In the months that followed I considerably expanded my repertoire and now I run eight 30 and 45 minutes tours. At the Tate, there are no pre-assigned scripts, and the guides are free to choose any artworks they want to for their own research and deliver their own texts. My tours cover a wide variety of art from the 20th and 21st centuries, including photography, painting, sculpture and performance art.

Working as a Guide at Tate has provided me with a unique opportunity to apply the knowledge I accumulated while studying History of Art with Photography at Masters level, from visual analysis and critical thinking, to understanding the collection of one of the most visited art galleries in the world. I see myself as a mediator of meanings between the works of art, curatorial vision and gallery’s visitors. My role is to help Tate’s visitors to understand modern and contemporary art in all its shapes and forms, and I enjoy doing it immensely. The feedback I get from both Tate visitors, and the gallery’s management is very positive and encouraging.

After two years of guiding tours at Tate Modern, as well as occasional tours for private clients, I decided to launch my own guided tour company, which will focus on different art collections around London. I am currently developing a tour, which will focus on art of the Low Countries in the seventeenth-century. A couple of years ago I took Chris Mook’s module Seventeenth-Century Painting in the Netherlands and since then developed a deep passion for the subject.’

Julija Svetlova tour at The Tate Gallery on 10th May 2017

Cadeau 1921, editioned replica 1972 Man Ray 1890-1976 Presented by the Tate Collectors Forum 2002 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07883





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extra extra – deadlines approaching for Venice Fellowships and PhD applications

A short extra post from me to highlight two upcoming deadlines:

TOMORROW – 12 January, 5pm – British Council Venice Fellowships

The School of Arts at Birkbeck is delighted to announce an exciting opportunity to all current students. We are inviting applications for two Steward-Research Fellowships at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, running between 26 May and 25 November 2018. A background in architecture or architectural history is not a pre-requisite. These are part funded by the British Council, and by the School of Arts. The successful candidates will be responsible for making their own travel, accommodation and insurance arrangements, but will be given a grant of £1600 for the month towards these and other expenses.

The successful candidates will work four days per week as an invigilator in the British Pavilion. Their remaining time will be used for study and research around the biennale theme, Freespace, which describes a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself. Students may wish to use this opportunity to contribute to an existing project or a dissertation – but there is no obligation to do so. 

Application form and further details below. Applications should be sent to Clare Thomas (c.thomas@bbk.ac.uk) by 5pm 12 January.

Application Form_Venice Fellowships 2018 Application Guidelines_Venice Fellowships 2018 Venice_Fellowships_Introduction

MONDAY – 15 January – PhD places and funding

If you’re planning to do a PhD and would like to apply for one of 12 fully funded Birkbeck Postgraduate Research Scholarships, the time is now. You need to have applied for a place on the MPhil/PhD programme by 15 January, and then there’s a subsequent deadline of 14 February for the scholarships themselves. More information on eligibility and how to apply here:


You can read more about the wide range of areas in which we supervise PhDs in History of Art here:


If you’d like to make an informal enquiry about these scholarships or about anything to do with studying for a PhD in the department, please contact Professor Lynn Nead: l.nead@bbk.ac.uk.



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Welcome to 2018

Welcome to a new year and a new term – I hope you all had restful breaks with some fun in there somewhere too. Those who came along to the Birkbeck History of Art Society Christmas party on the last day of term began the holidays with a bang – huge thanks to the organisers and to Laura Jacobus for this photo:

This is also a time to welcome colleagues back from research leave – so a warm welcome back to Gabriel Koureas, and a fond (temporary) farewell to Laura Jacobus as she goes on leave for the Spring term. Very happy to be saying hello again to Peter Fane-Saunders, who taught in the department in 2016-17 and is rejoining us for the Spring term 2018.

A couple of events coming up to draw your attention to:

Carol Richardson will be giving the first of the term’s Murray Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art on the topic of Britons and Anglo-Saxons in Sixteenth-Century Rome: the 1580s fresco cycle at the English College. 17 January 5pm, Keynes Library – no need to book! Click here for the poster with the term’s seminars: Murray seminar Spring 2018

And our History and Theory of Photography Research Centre presents:

6 February 2018, 6:00-7:30pm, Keynes Library: The Touch of Light: Bruce Nauman’s Holograms – Elizabeth Johnson (Associate Research Fellow, Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology)

Finally, a guest post from Sarah McBryde, a graduate of our Graduate Certificate and our MA History of Art currently doing a PhD under Dorigen Caldwell’s supervision. She recounts the thrilling/nerve-wracking experience of giving her first conference paper – and make sure to click through to her fascinating poster…

In December I was lucky enough to be selected to present my first academic paper titled ‘“A Gifted Dwarf” in the Court of Cosimo I de’Medici’, as part of a Graduate Student Session at the international conference, ‘Representing Infirmity: Diseased Bodies in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy’ at the Monash University Prato Centre in Italy. The conference organised by Jonathan K. Nelson, Fredrika Jacobs, Peter Howard and my PhD co-supervisor, John Henderson, was held in the grand ballroom of the 18th century Palazzo Vai, in the heart of Prato. Formerly a family home, then a gambling and social club for local businessmen, the palazzo became Monash’s Italian base in 2001 and still retains its ornate décor, sparkling with ‘coconut ice’ coloured glass and gilt chandeliers. As well as taking part in the conference I had also been invited to present my paper at the annual Monash Postgraduate Symposium the previous day. This gave me a chance to overcome a few nerves in the rather overwhelming setting, check my Powerpoint slides were actually going to work(!) and discuss a range of interesting research projects with a group of international MA and PhD students who were also participating.

The conference’s aim was to provide a platform for research into all aspects of Renaissance medicine and contemporary attitudes towards infirmities, diseases and disabilities. It brought together leading academics from the USA, Australia, Italy, Germany, Finland and the UK, and was opened by John Henderson whose keynote Bill Kent Memorial Lecture discussed religious and secular strategies to combat the 1630-33 plague outbreak in Florence. Other papers covered a broad array of subjects, from the depiction of goitres in Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St Andrew (Danielle Carrabino), to external treatments such as cupping and scarification (Evelyn Welch), modes of portraying diseases without visible external symptoms (Sheila Barker) and the Franciscans’ treatment of leprosy in the 15th century (Diana Bullen Presciutti).

Preparing the paper itself was a useful learning curve, including how to write an abstract to fit a conference theme and design an academic poster. I also took part in a BISR Presentation Skills Training Day and was able to test my paper in the supportive environment of a ‘Writing the Object’ seminar with Lynda Nead, in front of my fellow History of Art research students (thank you all for your brilliant comments!). My experience in Prato was both memorable and rewarding. Although initially daunted by the thought of presenting my first paper, particularly at such an early stage in my project, the feedback and encouragement I received from other speakers, students and members of the audience was invaluable and has given me many ideas to follow up as I establish the parameters of my research.






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