We Want You!

51 may be a boring kind of age, but it helps if you can look back on a 50th year full of celebrations, especially of the forward-looking kind. The department’s celebrations of Opening up Art History: 50 Years at Birkbeck culminated in a really stimulating, truly future-oriented day last Friday 19 October. The morning workshop on ‘The Future of Studying Old Art’ featured speakers from the BBC, the V&A, the charity Art History Link-up and Birkbeck, and made us all feel excited and optimistic about ‘old art’s continuing relevance and ability to fascinate new audiences. PhD student Sarah McBryde has written up a great blogpost about the event.

More to come in future blogs about the afternoon workshop – a *very* lively discussion of the fraught/opportunity-filled future of publishing in art history – and about the evening’s inspiring lecture by Tristram Hunt on the integration of past and future at the V&A, which also marked the launch of the new Centre for Museum Cultures. Check out their excellent new website (the handiwork of PhD student and Centre publicity officer Mark Liebenrood) where you’ll find photos of the event and much more about the Centre, which has been established to provide a hub for exchange and debate on all aspects of museology, curation and heritage. The director is our own Sarah Thomas, working in close collaboration with Annie Coombes, Gabriel Koureas and Fiona Candlin, as well as colleagues across Birkbeck.

So we bid a fond farewell to our 18th-century evening-studying young woman who’s been benignly accompanying us throughout our anniverary year, thanks to the British Museum’s generous open access image policy:

Étude nocturne, mezzotint by Philip Dawe, after John Foldsone, 1772 © Trustees of the British Museum

And now to the ‘we want you’ bit. We want you – we and your fellow students NEED you – to come forward to be representatives for your programmes. It’s an excellent way to meet your fellow students, keep abreast of issues and changes and work with staff to improve the student experience. Being a student rep means that your fellow students contact you with any issues and feedback, which you then bring to termly meetings (timed to fit in just before your classes) with me and programme directors. There are still places, especially for MA Museum Cultures and MA History of Art as well as BA History of Art year 1 and BA History of Art with Curating. Please contact art-history@bbk.ac.uk if you’re interested.

And now to the fun stuff and a date for your diary. The History of Art Societyyour student society – is holding its first social event of the year. Do come along and hear about what’s going on. The society is organised by a really lovely and creative group of people, and word is they’ve got hold of some funds for events too!

The brilliant charity Art Fund has announced its 2018-19 Student Art Pass offer, which is a good one, especially if you’re looking to defray the sometimes breathtaking expense of special exhibitions (you call that a concession!) Here’s the info, and note the upcoming deadline:

You’ll get free or discounted entry to over 240 museums and galleries across the UK, 50% off major exhibitions, and café and shop discounts too. Plus, buy a pass today and you’ll be entered into the #WeAreArtful Prize Draw to win one of five VIP museum experiences and a polaroid camera to capture the fun.
Student Art Pass is available for a limited time – get yours today to avoid missing out:
If there are any issues with the tracked link above, please just use:


Our new Lecturer in Contemporary Global Art, Mara Polgovsky, has organised this very exciting event over in the main Birkbeck building this coming Thursday:

Yoshua Okón: Future Shock | The Talk
1st Nov, 6pm MALB35
This talk features artist Yoshua Okón reflecting on his film installations. It is conceived as an open discussion that will provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions about Okón’s treatment of the movie image and about his first solo show in London Future Shock, presented at Chalton Gallery and curated by Giulia Colletti (3rd October-10th November 2018).  Yoshua Okón is an artist based in Mexico City. His work focuses on seemingly absurd political and social aspects of the North American region, exploring disproportionate consumption, rampant dispossession, and blind nationalism. He challenges the boundaries between the real and the artificial, using re-enactment as narrative technique in order to exacerbate social dysfunctions. His art lies at the crossroads of collective performance and simulation, continuously playing with uncertainty in relation to what is seen and unseen. Please register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/yoshua-okon-future-shock-the-talk-tickets-51745912417

Finally, the next ASSC event is coming up. Sophia Psarra from the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL will be speaking about a fascinating late project by Le Corbusier in Venice: ‘Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital: a genealogy of individual and collective intelligence in his architecture’. 9 November, 6pm, Keynes Library. More here.

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Singing and Music-Making Angels

Term is well and truly underway, with inductions behind us, lecturers and seminars ongoing in many diverse locations around the place (bet you never thought studying art history would take you to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), LOTS of marking (MA dissertations and projects on topics from 14th-century frescos to sports photography), and a whole range of research events planned and ready to be put in your diaries.

You can already go and see the visually striking and thought-provoking exhibition in the Peltz Gallery, Day for Night: Landscapes of Walter Benjamin on until 28 October. In a multi-media display, the various landscapes inhabited by the hugely influential early 20th-century German intellectual Walter Benjamin – from Berlin to Capri and Naples, and ending in Catalunya, Spain, where Benjamin died while fleeing the Nazis in 1940.

The next Murray Seminar, on 16 October, will be on the subject ‘Vestments and Textiles in Hans Memling’s God with Singing and Music-making Angels‘. Lisa Monnas looks at the costumes and textiles in paintings by the fifteenth-century Flemish painter Hans Memling.  How can vestments and other textiles help us understand a painting in new ways, and what can they tell us about broader questions of ‘realism’?

The Murray Seminars are an opportunity to hear and contribute to cutting-edge research, often at the very early stages of work in progress. All are welcome, and they are particularly suited to post-graduates and students considering post-graduate study. All this term’s seminars take place in The Keynes Library (43 Gordon Sq room 114) at 5pm. Talks finish by 5.50pm, allowing those going to classes to leave, and are then followed by discussion and refreshments. Do go along – it’s a fascinating programme.  You can see the poster with all this term’s dates here.

There are still a few (just a few!) places for the two workshops and the big anniversary lecture on 19 October: see my last blogpost for details. Hope to see many of you there.

Really pleased to announce an exciting new series of workshops and advice sessions for those interested in careers in the arts. The School of Arts and the Careers & Employability department have designed a programme of employability events for 2018-2019 tailored to Arts students at both Undergraduate and Postgraduate taught levels, and including events to suit each department in the School. Here you can download a general information about dates and types of events. The first of these events, Arts: My Unique Ability, will take place on Thursday October 18, 6-7:30, MAL 633. All events are free and open to all students in Arts. Booking here is indispensable.

Two of our students have been doing exciting things out and about, and blogging about it.

Danilo Reis, a final year student in BA History of Art with Curating, was one of the recipients of the 2018 Venice Fellowship, a scheme co-sponsored by the British Council and Birkbeck that allows two Birkbeck students to spend a month in Venice working at the British pavilion in the renowned Venice Biennale and developing an independent research project. Danilo’s written a fascinating account of his time in Venice and his project ‘subverting’ the classic tourist guidebook to the city here.

Adam Coleman, who completed the Graduate Certificate in History of Art and Architecture in 2017-18 and is now on the MA History of Art, had a busy weekend at Open House London, the big architecture festival last month. Not only did he do a bespoke tour of our own 43 Gordon Square, but he initiated and co-led a tour of a very interesting but little-known housing estate in Tottenham, which he had researched for his extended essay on the Grad Cert. He writes about the experience bringing architectural history to a broad audience here.

Staff members have been busy too.

Kasia Murawska-Muthesius was invited to contribute to a conference on the bodily deformation and emotions, Mis-Shapings: The Art of Deformation and the History of Emotions organised by Paolo Gervasi at the Queen Mary University of London, on 13 September. Her paper, ‘Perfetta deformità: Caricature and Embodiment‘, focused on the Seicento art treatises and on the ways of theorising multiple paradoxes of this subversive art form, which strives for perfect deformity instead of perfect beauty, which is capable of achieving likeness through deformation, and which serves as a catalyst in bringing communities together by poking fun on the bodily defects of their members instead of hiding them.

And finally, a new volume of essays has come out entitled Design Dialogue: Jews, Culture and Viennese Modernism, edited by Elana Shapira. It contains two Birkbeck contributions: ‘Myths of the Viennese Cafe: Ephemerality, Performativity and Loss’ by Tag Gronberg, and ‘Modern Architecture and Antisemitism in Early Twentieth-Century Vienna’ by Leslie Topp (me.)


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