Questions, questions

Did you enjoy Arts Week? Hope it provided a good respite from exam revision, dissertation prep, etc, etc.

What is a museum? And how would we know? Those questions will be answered, or if not answered, then the problems with answering them unpacked in enlightening ways by Fiona Candlin, Professor of Museology in the department, at her Inaugural Professorial lecture TONIGHT at 6pm in Clore, B01. More here. Ticket bookings are over, but even if you haven’t booked you can always come along and see if there’s a seat free. Believe me, it’ll be good. And how often do you get invited to a professorial inaugural lecture? I just bumped into the Dean of the School of Arts, and he’ll be giving a speech about Fiona too…

How on earth does someone afford to do an MA? Well, funny you should ask… This Friday 31 May is the application deadline for a whole range of MA bursaries and studentships offered by the School of Arts. Two particular ones to draw your attention to: Dean’s Awards are for recent alumni or current students who have or are likely to receive a first on their BA. They are for all MA programmes in the School, but don’t be put off by that – it’s very much worth applying if you meet the criteria. Wallace Studentships are just for MAs in our department (History of Art, Photography, Architecture, Museum Cultures) and are awarded based on both academic strength and financial need. You don’t need to have studied at Birkbeck before, and a first on the BA isn’t necessary.  Deadline for both is 31 May. All info is available here .

OK, no more questions.

You may have seen around the place copies of Lamplight, Birkbeck’s new student-produced magazine of arts and culture. Do pick one up (there are lots on the shelves in the reception of the School of Arts). It includes photography, painting and poetry by Birkbeck students, as well as interviews, essays and reviews, including a great piece on the Tate Britain exhibition of war photographer Don McCullin’s work, by BA History of Art with Curating student Adrian Peyrot. Contact info in there for the editors, in case you’re inspired to contribute or get involved.

As ever, lots of events coming up to attend, and exhibitions to see:

Next week, 6-8 June, is the excellent conference ‘Building-Object/Design-Architecture’, co-organised by the Design History Society, the European Architectural History Network, and the Architecture Space and Society Centre. The conference will explore old, new and future interconnections between Design History and Architectural History. There will be a Book Fair, Walking Tours and Keynote Speakers including: Ben Highmore (Sussex), Adrian Forty (Bartlett) and Doris Behrens-Abouseif (SOAS). There is a fee to attend, with significant concessions for students. More here.

Also opening next week on 4 June is the next exhibition in the Peltz Gallery, Refugees, Newcomers, Citizens: Migration Stories from Picture Post, 1938-1956. This exhibition brings together, for the first time, over sixty original prints by renowned émigré photographers Gerti Deutsch and Kurt Hutton, together with Bert Hardy and Haywood Magee, revealing Picture Post magazine’s stories of refugees and immigrants to Britain from the 1930s to the 1950s.  Images focus on the Kindertransport and Windrush-era migrations, as well as on lesser-known histories of wartime African-American women Red Cross volunteers, and post-war child Holocaust survivors who found refuge in the Lake District. It is curated by Mike Berlin, from the History department at Birkbeck, and is part of the amazing Insiders Outsiders Festival, organised by Monica Bohm-Duchen, associate lecturer in History of Art.

Two events for your diary on 12 June, and luckily the timing means you could attend both of them:

The next Murray seminar on Medieval and Renaissance Art will be given by Luca Palozzi, who’ll be speaking on ‘The Holy-Water Basin of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas in Pistoia, c. 1270: Petrography, Materiality and Function’. 12 June, 5pm in Keynes Library – no booking necessary. Giorgio Vasari writes in his Lives of the Artists that Giovanni Pisano “carved in marble the holy-water font of the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Pistoia,” and that this work, “by reason of its having then been held very beautiful, was placed in the centre of that church as a remarkable thing (come cosa singolare).” Despite Vasari’s mention in his Lives, the Pistoia holy-water basin remains little-known. The scant literature focusses on issues of style, date and authorship, failing to address the reasons why contemporary observers considered the Pistoia holy-water basin a truly beautiful and remarkable object. This paper explores this object’s surprising materiality, considering Nicola and Giovanni Pisano’s daring technical and artistic experimentations with stones and minerals scarcely used in monumental sculpture from the period. Their knowledge of materials, as well as their awareness of liturgy, crucially informed the making of this extraordinary object. The basin casts light on the ‘material turn’ of the 1260s and 1270s in Italian sculpture–a phenomenon whose magnitude and importance still await to be assessed.

Then at 6pm in the main building, room 355 is the next Arts Employability event featuring Dr Katy Barrett, Birkbeck alumna and Curator of Art Collections at the Science Museum, speaking about careers in museums – this should be a very useful and interesting event for anyone considering a career in the museum sector.

And, sorry, a final question: What do we do when we do art history? You may have attended (or missed) the event back in February with this title. It was a screening of two French-made films about the art historians Svetlana Alpers and Georges Didi-Huberman, from the series Un Oeil Une Histoire. There was a fascinating discussion afterwards about the films, focusing on how art historians at the beginning of their careers understand what it is that they do when they do art history. It included our own Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra, alongside scholars from the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. Whether you were there or not, have a listen to the podcast that’s now been made available on the website of the film’s distributors Senso-Projekt here.

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Arts Week! And some inspiration

The School of Arts is the home the History of Art department shares with the departments of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, Cultures and Languages, and English and Humanties. Arts Week is the annual showcase for the amazing range of discovering, thinking, creating and debating that goes on there. Every evening next week, you can come along to talks, screenings, panels, walks, workshops and more. You can even take part in a social media competition for the best arts-related pun. Here’s a message about that from our social media czar Oliver Chinyere:

We’ve launched our Arts Week pun contest and are looking for submissions! If you’re on social, please feel free to share with your audiences and/or participate yourself! (Twitter / FB). Winner wins a £25 gift card…and bragging rights.

Do browse through all the listings, but here for your convenience are the art/art history/museums-related events:

Monday 20 May

Accidental gardens: Natura Urbana | 5.45- 7.20pm | Book your ticket
Cinema, 43 Gordon Square.
 Natura Urbana: The Brachen of Berlin (dir. Matthew Gandy, 2017) explores the ecology of ‘accidental gardens’ flourishing in post-war Berlin. The changing vegetation serves as a parallel history to war-time destruction, geopolitical division, and the newest phase of urban transformation.

Jews, money, myth | 6:00-7.20 | Book your ticket
Room 122, 43 Gordon Square. 
How can museums best confront the stereotypes that feed anti-semitism? Explore the challenges of exhibiting difficult histories and shaping the stories objects tell with Sarah Thomas, Anthony Bale, Marc Volovici and curator of the current exhibition at The Jewish Museum, Joanne Rosenthal.

Thinking (about) automata in Descartes, Shaftesbury, and Diderot | 6.00-7.20pm |  Keynes library, 43 Gordon Square. What was the soul and what was the body? From Descartes to Diderot, the automaton crystallised this problem. Dr James Fowler discusses this Enlightenment crisis in how philosophers imagined non-human and human animals as ‘bêtes-machines’, clockwork and living statues.

Tuesday 21 May

Victorian dolls and fashion: exhibition and workshop | 12-7pm | Book your ticket
Room 122, 43 Gordon Square. 
This exhibition brings nineteenth-century dress to life on a small scale. Costume designer Claudia Vogt shows replicas of dresses and reproduces works from the Bedale’s Costume Collection. Join us to learn Victorian dress-making techniques for yourself.

Bridging the distance: a collaborative photography research project | 6-7.20pm | Book your ticket
Keynes library, 43 Gordon Square. 
Members of Ph: The Photography Research Network discuss their collaborative exhibition project with diverse works on environment, portraiture, surveillance and resistance. Explore hierarchies between theory and practice and how photography might bridge these distances. Guest chair and speaker Kathy Kubicki (Kingston, Goldsmiths).

Wednesday 22 May

Platform KX: a tour of the new King’s Cross | 2-4.00pm | Book your ticket
Meet at London King’s Cross Station. 
North of King’s Cross Station, once home to gasworks, railways and industry, one finds KX: a ‘creative quarter’ of flats, offices, shops, galleries, and restaurants. Join Birkbeck’s Scott Rodgers on a tour exploring KX and its platforms including Facebook and Google.

Female Human Animal: on surrealism, film, and fantasy | 5.30-7.20pm | Book your ticket Cinema, 43 Gordon Square. Josh Appignanesi’s psycho-thriller evokes the atmosphere of Leonora Carrington’s work, raising fascinating questions about gender, sexuality, and the inner life. The director joins Birkbeck’s Katherine Angel, Catherine Grant and Mark Blacklock.

Euston twilight: hotels, boarding houses and luxury squats in the post-war era | 7.40-9pm | Book your ticket Meet outside the School of Arts. A twilight walking tour visits the ghosts of Euston’s grand hotels and down-at-heel boarding houses. Uncover the history of residential hotels and other defunct forms of private rented accommodation, and learn about their subsequent history.

Thursday 23 May

Renaissance Women: learning from images | 2-5.00pm | Book your ticket
Meet at the front entrance National Portrait Gallery. 
What can an image tell us about the women of the past? Join our team of Birkbeck investigators as we mine the National Portrait Gallery’s unrivalled collection of portraits of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century queens, poets and patrons for stories of women’s worlds.

Patrons and Lovers of Art: nineteenth-century collecting and the wealth of empire | 6-7.20pm | Book your ticket Room B03, 43 Gordon Square. Pieter Christoffel Wonder’s Patrons and Lovers of Art (1830) commemorates the foundation of the National Gallery (1824). Sarah Thomas (Birkbeck), Catherine Roach (VCU), and Susanna Avery-Quash (National Gallery) discuss the painting from different perspectives within the context of British cultural history.

But are you doing anything? Curating, producing and managing as practice research | 6-9.00pm | Book your ticket Keynes library, 43 Gordon Square. How do thinking, talking and meditating rate as work? What is productivity in curating? This event is co-organised by the Arts Management programmes and Corkscrew, School of Arts Practice Based Research Group.

Friday 24 May

Architecture and dust: a discussion with Teresa Stoppani | 6-7.20pm | Book your ticket
Cinema, 43 Gordon Square. 
Dust can be a fragment, fragmented, or an accumulation. Teresa Stoppani (Architecture Association) discusses the idea of dust in relation to architecture, the body and the city. An Architecture, Space and Society Centre event with a response by Birkbeck’s Joel McKim.

And not to miss…

Last night music | 7.40-9.00pm | Book your ticket Room G10, 43 Gordon Square. Some of the School’s finest performers play live. Featuring contributions from The Bluegreen Trio (Louise Owen, Tony Fisher and Neil Livingstone) and Anthony J Shepherd. Acoustic jazz, folk and soul to celebrate Arts Week.

Hope you enjoy all the events, and the buzz around the place that always accompanies Arts Week!

And in other news…

Sean Willcock, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, has been awarded a Visting Scholarship for a month in 2020 at the Yale Centre for British Art in the US – many congratulations to him!

Sarah Thomas, Lecturer in the department, is giving a talk entitled ‘Slavery, Patronage and the Love of Art: Slave-ownership and the Politics of Collecting in Early Nineteenth-century Britain’ at a conference on Art Institutions and Race in the Atlantic World, 1619–1833 at The Courtauld Institute, May 24 & 25, 2019

The Arts Employability event featuring Dr Katy Barrett, Birkbeck Alumna and Curator of Art Collections at the Science Museum, speaking about careers in museums, has been rescheduled for 12 June, 6pm – so if you missed the first date, you have another chance to attend this very useful and interesting event.

And last but very much not least, for those of you starting out, or battling through to the end of your degrees (exams, anyone?), some inspiration. Here are some of our MA graduates (and supporters) at last month’s graduation ceremonies. It was lovely to see them looking so happy and relaxed!

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24-hour art history

Welcome back! Summer term is of course a busy but in some ways solitary time, with fewer classes, but lots to be getting on with: especially exam revision and dissertation prep. If you’re a proper night person, you’ll be interested to hear that the library is open round the clock until 16th June, to cover the exam period. You can find more details here:

If you feel like breaking up the revising and writing with another kind of intellectual stimulation (needing less self-motivation) we have a rich programme of events over the next couple of weeks.

On Tuesday 7 May 5pm in the COUNCIL ROOM (Birkbeck main building – a chance to see the power centre of the college!) is the first of the term’s Murray seminars:

Alexandra Gajewski from Burlington Magazine will be speaking on ‘Jerusalem and Rome on the Rhône? The City Views in Enguerrand Quarton’s Coronation of the VirginSince first coming to the wider attention of the public in the 1904 exhibition Primitifs français at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, Enguerrand Quarton’s Coronation of the Virgin (Musée du Luxembourg, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon) has been the subject of much scholarly attention focussing on questions of patronage and iconography. Its depiction of the Trinity, notable for the almost complete resemblance between God the Father and the Son, been the subject of much debate, but the painting’s detailed city views have received far less attention. This limited consideration is out of proportion with the length and detail accorded to the instructions for depicting the “world” in the famous surviving contract for the painting. This paper attempts to show that the city views are key to our understanding of the painting.

On Weds 8 May 6pm in Keynes Library (43 Gordon Sq room 114) you can go along to the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre’s seminar by Miriam Brusius of the German Historical Institute, speaking on ‘The Spaces of Photography. Five New Arguments on William Henry Fox Talbot’. William Henry Fox Talbot had to be excavated. In October 1966 digs began on the grounds of Lacock Abbey in the hope of uncovering relics of the Victorian gentleman of science, antiquarian, and inventor of the calotype. In the following decades Talbot became well known as a major protagonist in early Fine Art photography, yet his papers suggest that he was more concerned with the sciences than ‘high art’ in the strictest sense. This is echoed in the large bulk of photo archives that derive from the medium’s industrial and scientific applications or vernacular genres, in which aesthetics only appears as a single piece in a puzzle. So, who or what ‘turned’ Talbot into an artist? Taking material and archival practices as a starting point, Mirjam Brusius will give insight into the book project she is about to complete. The paper argues that not only the actual photographs and the complex practices surrounding them but also their detachments from their original archival context, and their dispersal between different institutions, museums and the art market determine the framework for the study of Talbot, and that of the history of photography itself.

And on Wednesday 15 May 6pm in Keynes you can hear the artists Kay Burns and James Mansfield speak about ‘The Museum of the Flat Earth: Curating as Art Practice?‘ Throughout the 20th Century, artists have sought to be collected and exhibited by museums, and many have also presented critiques of the social and economic structures of museums. More recently, moving away from the expected role of the public art institution, a number of artists have appropriated the physical space, attributes, and authority of museums in the creation of their work, including Kay Burns’ Museum of the Flat Earth. Kay founded this Museum, located on Fogo Island in Newfoundland in 2016, as a repository and adaptation of many years of artistic research and practice. The Museum combines fictional narrative, historical artefacts, and museological practices with creative performance and interpretation to provide a participatory experience for visitors. Kay will talk about how she came to create the Museum and will also be joined by James Mansfield, artist and PhD candidate at the University of Reading, for a discussion around how the Museum functions as a contemporary artwork and as a work of institutional critique.

In addition, on 14 May at 6pm over on Bedford Square at the Paul Mellon Centre, you can take in a screening of new films by our own Professor Lynda Nead (with John Wyver) about the work of Picture Post photographer Bert Hardy, and a discussion with Lynn and others.

Then hot on the heels of all these events is the annual intellectual and cultural bonanza known as Birkbeck’s Arts Week, during the week of 20 May. Do check out the programme and browse the events. I’ll post again highlighting the many art history-related events.

The next in the series of Arts employability events is of particular interest to History of Art students, and features one of our alumnae.  On 14 May 2019, 6-7:30, RUS (28) 109, Dr Katy Barrett – she is a Curator of Art Collections at the Science Museum and a BBK Alumna – will be talking about her work experience and transition from study to work, and answering any questions you might have about working in the museum sector. Find out more and book here.

Don’t miss the current exhibition in the Peltz, which uses the gallery space to refract the work of eminent Birkbeck academic Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen through the prism of art. Primarily known as film theorists and filmmakers, engagement with art and artists has always been a central dimension of Mulvey and Wollen’s activities. Their numerous documentaries and ‘theory films’ about or featuring artists are evidence of this, as well as their role as important interlocutors for artists, together with their critical writings, teaching, artwork, and curating. Find out more about the exhibition and related events here.

Finally, exciting news from two members of the department. Sarah Thomas, Lecturer in Museum Studies, has been awarded a Visiting Scholar Award at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut for four weeks in July, where she’ll be conducting research for her project “Slave-ownership and the Rise of the British Art Museum”. Peter Fane-Saunders, Honorary Research Fellow, has a fellowship during 2019-20 at the Villa I Tatti (The Harvard University Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies) in Florence, where he’ll be working on his project ‘Ancient Greek Accounts of Lost Architecture and their Influence, from the Renaissance to the Romantic Age’. It explores the influence, from the Renaissance onwards, of the reports of Eastern architecture found in ancient Greek authors such as Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus and Pausanias. Congratulations to both of them!








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