One last blog for 2018

One last blog before the end of 2018 and the proper beginning of the holidays.

First some exciting recent events to take note of:

On 10 December, the Centre for Museum Cultures hosted a ‘Meet the Curator’ event with Dr Lucy Peltz, senior curator at the National Portrait Gallery and an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck. The group (shown in the photo here) was treated to an exclusive after-hours tour of the Gainsborough’s Family Album exhibition. Dr Peltz gave some fascinating insights not only into Gainsborough and his acclaimed portraits, but also into some of the challenges faced by the curator in the years building up to opening night, and the excitement of discovering major works that had long been considered lost.  Keep your eyes open for future similar events in London museums organised by the Centre.

We also recently celebrated the publication of Robert Maniura’s new book, Art and Miracle in Renaissance Tuscany, published by Cambridge University Press. The book uses the records of a Prato lawyer, Giuliano Guizzelmi (depicted in the image below), as a guide to the visual and devotional culture of Renaissance Italy. Focussing on his treatment of local miracle shrines, it explores the active role given to the visual among the challenges of everyday life. Warm congratulations to Robert on this major publication.

Leslie Topp (that’s me) was on a panel co-organised by the Design Council and the Wellcome Trust’s Policy unit on ‘Building Healthy Places’, timed to coincide with the fascinating Living with Buildings exhibition currently on at Wellcome Collection until 3 March. I offered the historical perspective alongside an architect, a developer and an urban planner (I seemed to end up saying ‘there’s nothing new about that’ a lot). Health and wellbeing is a hot topic in housing and planning policy at the moment. The image shows the panel in the gorgeous Wellcome library reading room which is right around the corner and open to the public – check it out. Those cushions are a lot more comfortable than the chairs we were sitting on.

Credit: Wellcome Trust

And now for some upcoming events and opportunities:

The Department of History of Art is collaborating with the Courtauld and Warburg Institutes to organise an event you should really try to make it to on Saturday 9 February, 1-4pm in the Gordon Square cinema: ‘Un Oeil, Une Histoire: What do we do when we do art history?’ ‘Un Oeil, Une Histoire’ is a series of French-made documentaries, each of which focuses on a well-known art historian in the setting of their own home, speaking to camera about a personal selection of artworks (present as postcards laid out on a table) and tracing their trajectory of into the discipline and particular mode of thinking about art and its histories. You can see a trailer for the series here. We will be screening two of the films, one on Svetlana Alpers, the American scholar who writes on Northern Renaissance art, and the other on Georges Didi-Huberman, a French art historian and philosopher whose writings explore art historiography, psychoanalysis, and contemporary art. The screenings will be followed by a round table of three early career art historians from each of the participating institutions, reflecting on the films and on their own positions and practices. A great opportunity to see two absorbing and fascinating films and to think about what we do when we do art history. Book your place here.

If you’re looking to future careers and you’re interested in the creative industries you might want to take part in a hackathon Birkbeck is hosting on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th January. Priority is being given to students in the Arts. The event aims to develop participants’ entrepreneurial skills as well as work on innovative ideas for a business. This hackathon will offer students the opportunity to come together to learn, create, test, prototype and present their ideas to tackle some of the big environmental challenges facing the capital. The best teams will walk away with a substantial cash prize: 1st Place = £2,000; 2nd Place = £1,000! Students can register and get more information here. (Password: BBKHACK19)

Last but very much not least, a word about our colleague Dr Tag Gronberg. Tag is retiring at the end of this month, after 26 years in the department, during which she served as Head as well as in other key roles, including Director of Research, and, most recently, Programme Director of the MA History of Art. A brilliant historian of design, visual culture and urban culture, a very popular teacher and a hugely valued colleague, she’ll be much missed. We’re delighted that she’s been granted Emeritus status by Birkbeck’s Academic Board, and in fact we’re not losing her, since she’ll continue to be involved in the rich research culture of the department. In honour of one of her many research interests, here’s a glimpse of Viennese café culture…

Happy holidays! See you in 2019.





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Ah Venice (part 2)

Francis Sydney Unwin, St Mark’s, Venice, etching, 1911. British Museum.

And the destination for our next departmental field trip is, you guessed it, Venice! We are delighted to have two young scholars of Italian art, Zuleika Murat and Sarah Ferrari, acting as the guides. The trip, which is scheduled for 8-12 April 2019, will be an in depth experience of the city, its streets, canals, architecture, religious and daily life, and of course its art collections, with a day trip to Padua to see Giotto’s famous frescos in the Arena chapel. You will hear more soon from the admin team about how to sign up.

Sooner than Venice, tomorrow night in fact, is the latest in the talks organised by the Architecture Space and Society Centre. Neil Shashore, of Liverpool University, will be giving the paper ‘Civic Centre: Architecture, Civic Design, and the Municipal Project in Interwar Norwich’. He’ll be talking about the emergence of the idea of a ‘Civic centre’ connoting deliberately planned and grouped buildings and spaces for public administration and assembly, while expressing civic identity and ceremony in a self-consciously democratic age.

Next week is the next in the excellent and informative series of events exploring your options for employment after you have completed your degree. Are you wondering what kind of work you can do with a degree in Arts? If so, come to our employability event on 11 December 2018. The focus of the event will be on finding employment for those with an Undergraduate degree in English. It will feature Sam Zdzieblo coming from the company Joe Public , talking about his work experience and transition from study to work. All Arts students are welcome to attend.

Find out more and to book your place for the 11 December session here.

And do catch the fascinating and playful exhibition Circus Life, on in the Peltz Gallery, before it closes on Wednesday 12 December. This new exhibition celebrates the 250th anniversary of the birth of circus and investigates circus’ continuing appeal as a subject for visual artists through the eyes of recent and contemporary British practitioners.

Our academics have been busy with papers, publications and prizes:

Kasia Murawska-Muthesius took part in two conferences in late November: one was organised by ICOM (International Council of Museums), entitled Museum Dimension: What Makes a Curator?, held at the National Museum in Budapest, on 19-20 November. She spoke about the origins and the aftermath of the Critical Museum project she was involved at the National Museum in Warsaw (2009-2010). The other conference was in Prague, with the great title ‘The New Dictionary of Old Ideas’, organised by a centre for contemporary art MeetFactory, where she participated in debates about responsibilities of contemporary art and cultures with her talk on maps: ‘Mapmaking as Imagemaking: The Case of East Central Europe.’

Kate Retford (whom you’ll remember as previous HoD and author of this blog) has had her recent book The Conversation Piece: Making Modern Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain shortlisted for the Apollo Book of the Year award 2018. The Conversation Piece was published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press. It looks at the emergence of a new type of small group portrait in eighteenth-century Britain, in which diminutive sitters, engaged in activities like taking tea or playing cards, are seen seated in polite interiors, or enjoying their landscape gardens. The book examines the reasons for the development of this innovative art form, unpicks the resonances of that evocative word ‘conversation’, analyses the nature and function of those carefully described settings, and explores the full range of relationships encompassed in these groups.

Kate has been on research leave for a year and a half, since stepping down as Head of Department, but will be back in January, and looking forward to taking over as MA History of Art programme director, and teaching her MA Option on eighteenth-century portraiture. Which will include a class on the conversation piece of course!

(p.s. She’s now Professor Kate Retford – congrats, Kate!)

Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra has had an article published in latest issues of the key American publication Art Journal. “Beyond Evil: Politics, Ethics and Religion in León Ferrari’s Illustrated Nunca Más, looks at the Argentine artist’s controversial series of collages Nunca Más (Never Again, 1995-96), named after the 1984 human rights report by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared. She argues that this series provides a visual rereading of the first extensive investigation of human rights violations during Argentina’s last military dictatorship, foregrounding the conjunction of repressive power and appeal to morality that characterized this regime.

I’ll end with a striking hybrid historical-contemporary image from Mara’s article – and I’ll be back with one more blog before the break.

León Ferrari, “The Inferno” by P. de Limbourg + Jorge Videla and Cardinal Aramburu, from the series Nunca más, 1995-96. Digital print on paper. Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari Archivo y Colección, Buenos Aires

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