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: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/library/opening-hours.

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!