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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Another academic year begins!

A warm welcome to all our new students, and welcome back to those of you who are continuing with us. Inductions happen this week and next, and classes begin next week – I hope that on balance you’re feeling more excited than overwhelmed!

If you’re new to Birkbeck and this blog, I should tell you that I usually post every other week during term, filling you in on events and developments in the department, reporting on staff activities as well as on achievements of students past and present (please do feel free to contact me with news you’d like me to include) and lots more.

We are very excited to welcome a new member of staff to the department this term: Dr Mara Polgovsky Ezcurra joins us as Lecturer in Contemporary Art. She’s recently completed a Junior Research Fellowship at Cambridge University and is a specialist in contemporary Latin American art. This year she will be teaching mostly on first year BA modules, and is also available for dissertation supervision. You can read more about her here.

We kicked off our year of public events last weekend by opening the doors of the School of Arts for Open House London 2018. Over Saturday and Sunday, and despite the less than ideal weather, we welcomed 315 visitors on 37 tours, organised and led by a brilliant and dedicated group of student volunteers.

Take a look at this short film if you want to learn more about the fascinating School of Arts building.

Friday 19th October is a big day for us – a day of workshops and a public lecture by Tristram Hunt, rounding off the Department of History of Art’s 50th anniversary celebrations and launching the new Centre for Museum Cultures.

In two public workshops in Gordon Sq B04, on ‘The Future of Studying Old Art’ and ‘Futures for Publishing in Art History’, Birkbeck’s academics are joined by experts from the worlds of museums, media and publishing to put our collective finger on the pulse of the discipline. Each workshop focuses on an area of crisis and transformation, asking where we are now, what’s next, and why. The workshops are kindly supported by the Murray Bequest.

Then at 6pm in Beveridge Hall, Senate House we welcome Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A to give the Birkbeck History of Art Anniversary Lecture,’Design for a Nation: The Victoria and Albert Museum in the 21st Century’ Dr Hunt will discuss how the museum’s founding commitment to design, education and industry continues to define it today. Tracing the museum’s genesis, from its Victorian roots in the Design School Movement of the 1830s, through the Great Exhibition of 1851, to its establishment in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures, he considers how the V&A’s British, Germanic, Indian and Oriental origins engendered a world-class collection. In our contemporary age of Brexit, Netflix and digital technology, Dr Hunt uses this cultural lens to consider the museum’s place in the world today. Dr Hunt’s lecture will be followed by a drinks reception and the launch of Birkbeck’s new Centre for Museum Cultures.

See here for more information and links for booking. Book soon! Places are limited.

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History of Art Department 50th Anniversary Party 29 June – photos!

On 29 June we had the department party to end all parties, with over 200 people out in Gordon Square to celebrate fifty years of History of Art at Birkbeck, preceded by reunion parties for students from all five decades of the department’s existence. We were so chuffed to see many of our former and current students there, and to be able to catch up with much missed former staff as well. Emeritus colleagues Francis Ames-Lewis, Peter Draper and Will Vaughan all spoke, reviewing the history of the department and sharing funny and poignant personal reminiscences of teaching and working at Birkbeck. Department administrators Susan El Ghoraiby and Clare Thomas led a crack team of helpers who made it a really celebratory event. Thanks to all, including to College photographer Dominic Mifsud for these lovely photos:

This group includes everyone who was at the party who has worked, is working or will soon work for the department

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Term may be over…

Term may be over and the summer break here, but there’s still a lot to tell you about. My colleagues, our research students and our alumni have all been busy and have fascinating things to report and watch.

First from Mark Crinson, Professor of History of Architecture, about an interesting meeting of an interesting organisation in an interesting place:

‘I got back last week from a beautifully organised and intellectually stimulating three-day conference in Tallinn, Estonia. It’s a fascinating city, with its medieval walls and towers, its many neoclassical edifices, its Soviet housing blocks, and its more recent public museums. Estonia is a tiny country (only 1.3 million people) located on a hinge between the European landmass and Russia, with Finland and the Baltic Sea to the north, and this meant that for much of the twentieth century it was dominated either by the Soviet Union or by Germany. To visit any part of Tallinn is to see the residue of these influences – for me the most memorable visit was to the port, with its seaplane hangars, its dry docks, its eighteenth-century fort (still a prison until the early 2000s), and its tiny wooden Crimean War-era submarine (never apparently used).

In many ways Tallinn was the ideal location for the biennial conference of the European Architectural History Network. EAHN is a relatively new organisation and is more of a project than a professional body. It promotes the study of architectural history across Europe (though of course what its members study is not limited to Europe), and as part of this it tries to vary the location of its large biennial conferences, its smaller thematic conferences, and even its business meetings. Since 2010 the EAHN has held its biennial conferences in Guimãraes, Brussels, Turin, Dublin, and now Tallinn. It runs an academic journal – Architectural Histories – and several special interest groups. Check out its website – https://eahn.org – and become a member (it’s free!). Full disclosure – for the last two years I have been Vice-President and in Tallinn I became President (it’s only a two-year term).’

Meanwhile, Patrizia Di Bello, Senior Lecturer in the department, is featured in a really watchable and informative ‘HENI talk‘ about the photographer and cultural sniper Jo Spence, who was the subject of the exhibition recently in the Peltz Gallery. HENI talks were new to me and you should check them out, they’re great: short, beautifully-made films on a whole range of art topics with key experts – Patrizia’s being one of the best of course.

Professor Lynda Nead tells us about a grant she and Anthony Bale have received for a magical new project:

‘Professor Lynn Nead and Professor Anthony Bale (Dean of the School of Arts , English and Humanities) have been awarded a grant by the Birkbeck / Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) to organise an international two-day workshop to bring together cultural historians, art historians and historians of chemistry and science to initiate a new discussion of the spaces, objects and aesthetics of alchemy.

Alchemy, an art as much as a science, was a heady mixture of philosophy, art, medicine, folklore, and chemistry, the precursor of modern chemistry and the stuff of the creative imagination. An ancient, global technology, alchemy offers a supple set of imagery that is found in Chinese medicine, Persian folklore, Chaucer’s poetry, Jungian psychology, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and contemporary manga. This project focuses on the spaces and objects of alchemy and on visual and cultural representations of the alchemist’s laboratory and the paraphernalia with which it is filled. This space, it will be suggested, becomes a precursor of and metaphor for other spaces of creativity and imagination, such as the artist’s studio, the junk shop, the scientific lab, and the clinic or surgery; places of hidden treasures in which things and substances are not what they seem and where everyday stuff can be turned into priceless objects and medicines.’

Anthony Bale (who is Professor of Medieval Studies in the Department of English and Humanities as well as being Dean of the School of Arts) has curated an exquisite new exhibition in the Peltz Gallery (which is air-conditioned, by the way) entitled Capsule: Inside the Medieval Book. He’s worked with the animation artist Shay Hamias and has drawn on the insights of a range of Birkbeck medievalists, including our own Laura Jacobus.

MA History of Art graduate Michael Clegg tells us about the impressive published afterlives of two projects he worked on as part of the MA:

‘I’ve been immensely pleased to have two peer-reviewed articles published in the last month, both based on work I did during my Birkbeck MA. I completed my Masters in Art History in 2016, with the intention of starting a PhD, but as I knew that wouldn’t be for at least another 12 months it seemed a good opportunity to pitch my Birkbeck research for publication. I thought hard about where to try and place articles: my dissertation had been about exhibiting British art at Tate in the 1950s, so Tate Papers was a natural choice, while my Research Project linked to a number of archive television films making it a good fit with British Art Studies (published by the Paul Mellon Centre) which is keen to exploit the possibilities of digital publishing. I reworked both pieces, including some additional research, to get the right length and to reframe my arguments for a new audience. Submission was followed by a long wait, then more research and re-writing after peer review. With publication dates scheduled, the beginning of this year brought lots of copyediting and work with picture editors; it took some effort to re-read work I’d originally put to bed two or three years ago.

The result was worth it, however, and I feel I can now claim some contribution to scholarship. The articles can be found at http://www.britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-index/issue-8/the-art-game and http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/29/1957-rehang-tate-modern-british-gallery. I’m now completing my first year of a PhD at Birmingham University, looking at post-war printmaking in Britain; you can follow me @michaeljclegg1.’

Two of our research students have had exceptional success in being awarded competitive grants for research trips and placements in the US over the next academic year. Warm congratulations and bon voyage to Anna Jamieson and Hannah Lyons!

Do check out the blogpost on the Haha: The Weirdness of Walls symposium last month, if you missed it, or even if you didn’t.

I won’t say goodbye for the summer yet, because there’ll be one more blogpost with photos of our marvellous anniversary party on 29 June.

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Going out with a bang

I don’t think I’ve ever known the last two weeks of the Summer term to be quite so packed with talks, screenings, discussions and parties. So hold onto your seats:

THIS AFTERNOON (Fri 22 June), Keynes Library: Contested, Uncomfortable, Embarrassing: Encountering Difficult (Art) Histories – the Postgraduate Summer Conference, Keynes Library, 1-6.30pm, with a keynote lecture by Dr Sean Willcock, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Birkbeck, on ‘Colonial Violence and the Ethics of Photography’ (4.45pm)

Wednesday 27 June 5pm, Keynes Library: Murray Seminar (a special departmental ‘golden’ anniversary event): Alison Wright, UCL, ‘Gold against the Body:  gold surfaces and their limits, medieval to early modern’

Wednesday 27 June, 6pm, Cinema: Anna Konik, In the Same City, under the Same Sky…: A Screening and Artist’s Talk for Refugee Week. Internationally recognised video installation artist screens and speaks about her work with forced migrants across Europe.

Thursday 28 June, 2-6pm, Birkbeck (room TBC): Radical Visions: the cultural politics of Camerawork, 1972-1985. A Collaborative Symposium (co-hosted by the History and Theory of Photography Centre and Four Corners) will consider the radical journal Camerawork‘s engagement, role and influence with community-practice, feminism and representation, and ask how its broader legacy can be understood within the context of today’s cultural politics.

Friday 29 June, 6-8pm, HISTORY OF ART DEPARTMENT 50TH ANNIVERSARY GARDEN PARTY, Gordon Square (yes, actually in Gordon Square – marquee provided in case of rain). A chance to meet students and staff, past and present, and friends of the department. A party like this happens only once every half-century – don’t miss it! (If you haven’t had your e-invitation, please email me on l.topp@bbk.ac.uk).

Thursday 5 July, 6pm 43 Gordon Square B04, Architecture Space and Society Centre presents: New Book Talk: Istanbul Open City: Exhibiting Anxieties of Urban Modernity Ipek Tureli (McGill University, Montreal) will present her new book, followed by a discussion with Gabriel Koureas and Günes Tavmen.

Friday 6 July, 6pm, 43 Gordon Square, G04, Staff and Student End of Year Party. Food, drink, and end of year release – a chance to say goodbye until September…

Now you’ll know from speaking to your classmates that there is no such thing as the typical Birkbeck student, and that so many of you have had interesting and unpredictable paths into study in our department. Carla Valentine, who’s got a new book out, tells us about her fascinating journey from the mortuary to the MA Museum Cultures and now to a top museum post:

I’d wanted a career in a mortuary from when I was a young child and, as odd as this seemed at a time before CSI and Silent Witness, I do write about the different issues which came together to send me along that unusual path. Over the years I gained experience of embalming, forensics, post-mortems of adults and the young, decomposed and freshly deceased, radioactive decedents and those with highly infectious diseases, as well as victims of the July 7th Bombings in 2005. After nearly a decade of working alongside pathologists at the same time as the Human Tissue Authority was being created I became more aware of the variety of ways in which we may encounter the deceased today: in the post-mortem sector, at medical schools for teaching students, and public display (all areas which the HTA now regulate). For more information see my essay on the topic.

Fascinated by the concept of our interaction with the dead in the public arena, I sidestepped from dealing with the recently deceased in mortuaries to becoming the curator of Barts Pathology Museum, part of Queen Mary University London. Although my work now involves human remains around a century old, the basic method is very similar: it’s my job to ‘read’ these human remains in order to find out about how they lived and how they died, then decide why and how this is relevant for a public audience. I was therefore thrilled when I discovered the MA in Museum Cultures at Birkbeck, which gave me the option to study Exhibiting the Body as a module with Dr Suzannah Biernoff and then carry out an Independent Research Project and a dissertation of my own choosing. Now I work with human remains and research their display at Masters Level, with my day-to-day work supplementing my studies and vice-versa – it’s ideal! However, my previous career as an autopsy technician was a rollercoaster-ride and I’m thrilled I was able to tell the story in my new book Past Mortems.

Carla Valentine (www.carlavalentine.co.uk)

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The Weirdness of Walls…

… is the name of a really interesting symposium happening *tomorrow* (Friday 8 June) in the Keynes Library, 9.30-17.30, sponsored by the Architecture Space and Society Centre and the Lorraine Lim fund and organised by two Arts PhD students, Milos Kosec and Christina Parte. If you come along (free and open to all, but please use the booking link) you’ll hear speakers on all sorts of walls, including Berlin’s and Trump’s, as well as our own Mark Crinson and Leslie Topp (yours truly) holding forth.

June is packed with History of Art events, so recover from exams, take a break from research projects, work placements and dissertations, and check these out:

Contested, Uncomfortable, Embarrassing: Encountering Difficult (Art) Histories is the compelling theme chosen by our MPhil/PhD students for their annual summer conference, Friday 22 June, 2-5pm, Keynes Library. This gives me the opportunity to introduce Dr Sean Willcock, who has just joined the department for three years as Leverhulme Early Career Fellow. He’ll be giving the keynote address at the conference, so come and hear about his fascinating research on the visual culture of violence in Victorian Britain. More about Sean here. He will be teaching a BA option in 2018-19.

Murray Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art: 27 June 5pm, Keynes Library, Alison Wright (UCL) ‘Gold against the Body: gold surfaces and their limits, medieval to early modern’

Directly after that you can zip down to the cinema for:

Anna Konik, In the Same City, under the Same Sky…: A Screening and Artist’s Talk for Refugee Week Wednesday 27 June 2018, 6-7.30pm, Cinema, followed by a reception – no booking necesary. Internationally-recognised video artist Anna Konik is visiting Birkbeck from her bases in Berlin and Warsaw to speak to us about her work involving migrant and refugee stories and to develop a new project with students on Birkbeck’s award-winning Compass Project. Konik has exhibited in numerous European galleries and museums over the past two decades. In the Winter Semester of 2017-18 she was Rudolf Arnheim Associate Professor at the Department of Art and Visual History, Humboldt University, Berlin; she is currently a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. She will introduce and screen extracts from her project In the Same City, under the Same Sky…, which has been exhibited in Germany, Poland, Sweden and Romania. For more information: l.topp@bbk.ac.uk

Open House London, the city-wide architecture festival on the weekend of 22-23 September, will again this year include the School of Arts building (Gordon Square), a historic Georgian terrace, former home of Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell and other members of the Bloomsbury Group, and site of the award-winning ground floor and basement intervention (the cinema and surroundings) by Surface Architects from 2008. You can learn more about our building by watching this film. There’s a meeting on Tuesday 19 June, 6pm, in 43 Gordon Square room B03 for those interested in volunteering at Open House in a variety of roles. If you are interested in volunteering, please come along to the information meeting on 19 June and/or e-mail Eva Höög at eva.hoog@btconnect.com with your name and programme of study.

Finally, announcements of two publications by our eighteenth-century-ists:

Prasannajit de Silva has a new book out with Cambridge Scholars Press: Colonial Self-Fashioning in British India, 1785-1845: Visualising Identity and Difference In this book, Prasannajit considers the ways in which British colonists in India depicted their own lives.  Drawing on examples from various genres – portraiture, depictions of customs and manners, comic narrative, and landscape – this analysis exposes some of the complexities underlying colonial identity during a critical period in the history of British involvement in the subcontinent, and calls into question some of the standard stereotypes of colonial life. Many congratulations to him!

Kate Retford is meanwhile featured in an innovative open access online publication just launched by the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art: The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769-2018. It is now live, and it’ll be a great resource for students – short pieces about the RA summer exhibition every year from 1769 to 2018, lots of stats on exhibitors and visitors, and digitised versions of all the catalogues. You can find Kate as author of 1775 and 1798!


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books, jobs, parties

I’m beginning this post with an image of the beautiful cover of Sculptural Photographs, the new book by Patrizia Di Bello, Senior Lecturer in the department, just published by Bloomsbury. While there is a growing body of work examining how photography has contributed to the development of a Western ‘sculptural imagination’ by disseminating works, facilitating the investigation of the medium, or changing sculptural aesthetics, this study focuses on how sculpture has provided not only beautiful and convenient subject matter for photographs, or commercial and cultural opportunities for photographers in the market for art reproductions, but also an exemplar for thinking about photography as a medium based on mechanical means of production. Warm congratulations to Patrizia!

For those of you in the market for jobs in the visual arts, a message from a team you should know about, Birkbeck Talent:

Are you looking for a new job in History of Art? Birkbeck Talent is Birkbeck’s exclusive recruitment agency for Birkbeck Students & Graduates. We have a number of roles available, from Internships to Permanent positions, both part time and full time. We work with a number of organisations such as the V&A museum and the East India Company. You can access the jobs board through your MyBirkbeck Profile on the home-page – please take a look and let us know if any of the roles interest you. Please also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for all the latest information.

They have a particular job advertised now with a deadline of this Monday 28 May (there goes your bank holiday…). It’s a Catalogue Research Assistant post for an international art services business – more here: Catalogue Research Assistant role.

And the jobs board refered to above has another relevant role, this one with a bit more time before the deadline of 11 June:

Blythe House Decant: Head of Collections Moves Programme
£55,000 per annum
Fixed term contract until March 2023
More on the jobs board – accessible via your My Birkbeck profile…
I’ll continue to feature art history-related jobs in this blog as they come my way.
And on the topic of life-changing opportunities, do think about coming along to upcoming information evenings on MAs and PhDs in the department. These evenings are really worth attending if you’re considering further study – they’re an opportunity to hear the latest on what’s on offer, to speak to staff teaching on the programmes, find out about the application process, and, even more interesting, get a look at who else might be applying!
MPhil/PhD Information evening, Tuesday 11 June 6pm, 30 Russell Sq room 101 (this one will feature current PhD students to give you the student’s-eye-view of the transition from MA to PhD study.)
A couple of fascinating-sounding Renaissance talks coming up:

Murray seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art: 5 June, 5pm, Keynes Library, Michelle O’Malley, the Warburg Institute, ‘Botticelli: A conundrum of production’

Rome Lecture Series, 8 June 6pm, Russell Sq 101: Architecture and the Construction of Authority
And finally, the end of term is coming up, which means parties! Two of them this year for your diary…
29 June 6-8pm, a Garden Party in Gordon Square, celebrating the Department of History of Art’s 50th anniversary (all current and former students should have received an invitation and a link and password for booking – please get in touch on l.topp@bbk.ac.uk if you haven’t)
6 July 6-8pm, the Staff & Student End of Term Party (please bring a bottle/food to this one), Gordon Sq G04
See you there!
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Arts Week! And more…

Hope you can find time amidst exams, dissertation research, etc, to come along to the rich offerings of this year’s Arts Week, beginning Monday. Arts Week was inaugurated in 2012 and has become a real institution, bringing Gordon Square alive with talks, walks, screenings and much more. As usual there are very rich offerings in art history, with architecture, museums and contemporary art as particular strengths this year. Take a look at these events in particular on the webpages:

Monday: Destruction of Memory; Cook’s Camden

Tuesday: Curating Sound for Difficult Histories; Paper Peepshow; Modernism in Bloomsbury; Visual Protest

Wednesday: The Archive Project; Renaissance Life of Things; Robin Hood Gardens

Thursday: Lubetkin’s Finsbury; Author and Illustrator; Raymond Williams; Art & Empathy

Friday: On Reflection; Floating Islands; Chris Dorley-Brown

A special mention for ‘Floating Islands in Contemporary Art‘ (Friday 6pm in the cinema) which promises to be an intriguing and exciting talk by Professor Gill Perry on her current research. We’re delighted to welcome Gill to the department as Visiting Professor for the next three years. Gill, who is Emeritus Professor of History of Art at Open University is a leading scholar of both 18th-century and contemporary British Art. You can read more about her here.

Some further dates for your diary:

The Murray seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Art have been announced for this term. They take place at 5pm in the Keynes Library – all welcome:

5 June, Michelle O’Malley, the Warburg Institute, ‘Botticelli: A conundrum of production’

Two versions of Botticelli’s Virgin and Child with an Adoring Angel suggest raise fundamental questions about the specifics of authorship in the workshop and how we, as art historians, understand Renaissance artistic practice and construct attribution. This paper looks again at the technical evidence and the value of connoisseurship in tracking the development of the use of reproductive technique in late fifteenth-century Florence.

27 June, Alison Wright, UCL ‘Gold against the Body:  gold surfaces and their limits, medieval to early modern’

The myth, famously invoked in Goldfinger, of the human body suffocated by being coated in gold exemplifies the fascination and danger attached to the idea of an ‘excess’ of gold, especially in respect to human skin. This paper explores the slippery boundaries of when, where and for whom gold surfaces might be deemed excessive in relation to European art, especially Italian, of the fourteenth to early sixteenth centuries.

And a lecture organised by colleagues in Applied Linguistics that will be of interest to fans of American (Post)Modernism: Professor Adam Jaworski (The University of Hong Kong) will be giving this year’s Michel Blanc Lecture in Applied Linguistics at Birkbeck. The talk will be followed by a drinks reception. The event is free and open to all, but for catering purposes, please book your ticket on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-michel-blanc-lecture-in-applied-linguistics-2018-registration-44377867396 

Title: EAT/DIE and other stories: Remediation and creativity in Robert Indiana’s word art

Date and Time: Thursday, 7 June 2018, 18:00 – 19:30

Location: B01, Clore Management Centre

 ‘Several decades ago, Robert Indiana (b. 1928) described himself as ‘an American painter of signs’. In this presentation, I make a case for considering Indiana as a painter of stories. Drawing on the ‘small stories’ model for narrative analysis (Georgakopoulou), I argue that his word pieces in the EAT, EAT/DIE and LOVE cycles constitute episodic narratives adding up to his own life story (or artist mythology). Indiana’s creative remediation (Bolter and Grusin) of his multimodal writing in different materials and formats, its emplacement as public art and widespread imitation allow members of the public to appropriate his artworks in episodic encounters and make them part of their own biographies.’



I mentioned in my last post the very successful (and sunny) Berlin field trip that happened over Easter. BA History of Art student Kathryn Hallam-Howard has written a ‘Birkbeck Blog’ post to tell you all about it – and with some great pics. Do have a read.


I’ll round off this week with a plug for an excellent small exhibition at the amazing Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, curated by and featuring the work of photographer, curator and MA History of Art graduate Sunil Shah. ‘Uganda Stories’ delves into poignant and troubling questions of exile, displacement and resettlement through Sunil’s family’s story of being expelled from Uganda in the early 1970s under Idi Amin. It’s on until 27 August, so do visit if you’re in Oxford over the summer.


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Summer (term) is here

Hope you all had good breaks – not too dominated by essays, dissertations, revision, etc. It’s good to be back and there’s a lot to report on and look forward to (in addition to the air warming up – we live in hope).

First, there’s an imminent deadline of this Monday 30 April for 2 things:

  1. the National Student Survey for final year undergraduate students – please complete it if you haven’t already – we want to hear your views!
  2. applications for MA bursaries and studentships for students with places on MA programmes starting in September 2018. These include two Wallace studentships for programmes in our department, as well as School of Arts funding you can apply for – check out the link.

Another thing to do soon is to go to the Cultural Sniping exhibition in the Peltz Gallery before it closes. The official closing date is Saturday but a little birdy tells me there might be another chance to see it during the day on Monday. It’s been a great success, arousing lots of interest in the fascinating life and work of the photographer-activist Jo Spence and our archive here at Birkbeck – including from major London art institutions.

I’m delighted to let you know that Professor Lynda Nead has been short-listed for the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for her book The Tiger in the Smoke: Art and Culture in Post-War Britain (Paul Mellon Centre and Yale University Press). The prize is awarded annually by English PEN for a non-fiction book of specifically historical content. More here, including a great statement from the PEN judges – here’s a taste: ‘The Tiger in the Smoke rejects the self-congratulatory narrative of Britain after the Second World War, focussing instead on shades of grey smog, bomb-sites, virulent racism, art and film, and the dreams of ordinary people.’

Congratulations and good luck as well to our students Danilo Marques dos Reis (BA History of Art with Curating) and Uli Gamper (MA Museum Cultures) who are the successful of prestigious Venice Fellowships from the British Council and Birkbeck. They’ll be off to the Venice Architecture Biennale soon and we’ll look forward to hearing from them about their experience (and the glorious weather.)

Welcome back from Berlin, those of you who went on the department field trip led by Kasia Murawska-Muthesius and Stefan Muthesius. Word is it went extremely well – a packed and fascinating itinerary and more glorious weather (ho hum). There’ll be more on that in this blog soon.

The Architecture Space and Society Centre has a really rich and varied programme of events coming up this term:

Ferdinand Opll: The Battle of Maps: Ottoman-Habsburg antagonism as mirrored in their cartography (15th – 16th century) 27 April, 5pm, Keynes Library (for more information and to book your place please visit here)

Mark Wilson Jones as part of our “Thinker in Architecture” Series, speaking on “The Origins of the Architectural Orders Revisited” 4th May, 6pm at Keynes Library

Finola O’Kane Crimmin (University College Dublin): Designed in Parallel or in Translation? Plantation Landscapes from Ireland, Jamaica and Georgia 1730-1830 25 May, 6pm, Keynes Library, School of Arts, Birkbeck (for more information and to book your place please visit here)

Mabel Wilson (Columbia University): Provisional Demos: The Spatial Agency and Tent Cities 21 June, 7pm, ICA Cinema (NB: not at Birkbeck!)

Also check out the programme for Arts Week, the School of Arts annual festival of public talks, walks, workshops, screenings, etc etc – it’s always a lot of fun, not to mention stimulating and enlightening (and an excellent excuse to take a break from revising for exams). This year it’s 14-18 May, and you’ll see several History of Art events in the programme, including a talk on ‘Floating Islands in Contemporary Art’ by our new visiting professor, Gill Perry, professor emerita at the Open University. More on her in a future blog…



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Oh Canada

Term break is here! And what an eventful term it’s been.

I hope lots of you have had a chance to see the super-stimulating and beautifully installed ‘Cultural Sniping’ exhibition on the collaborative work of the photographer Jo Spence in the Peltz Gallery, which was curated by Patrizia Di Bello with Frances Hatherley and a group of MA students in the department. The opening party was a good one, with people who worked with and knew Jo Spence in attendance.

You can learn more about the show and the work of Jo Spence and her colleagues and ask your own questions at two upcoming roundtable events in the gallery (all welcome – no booking needed):

Thursday 19 April, 6-7:30

Cinderella: Women, Class and Fairy Tales in Jo Spence’s work, with Marina Warner and Frances Hatherley, chaired by Lynda Nead.

Thursday 26 April, 6-7:30

Collaborative Projects: Pleasures and Pains, with Rosy Martin, Carla Mitchell, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, and Jacob Bard-Rosenberg, chaired by Patrizia Di Bello

These are both organised by the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, as is this soon to be held talk, in which my homeland gets some (rare it must be said) attention:

4 April 2018, 6:00-7:30

Keynes Library (room 114) Martha Langford (Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University in Montreal), Who Can Tell? Histories and Counter-Histories of Photography in Canada.

And now for kudos received by colleagues and students.

Our colleague Peter Fane-Saunders has been awarded the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Prize by the Renaissance Society of America. This prize – one of the most coveted in the entire field of Renaissance art, literature, history, etc, etc –  is awarded annually for the best book in Renaissance studies. Peter’s book is entitled Pliny the Elder and the Emergence of Renaissance Architecture (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Katherine Turley (MA Medieval Literature and Culture), submitted her essay  ‘The face of the one who is making for Jerusalem’:  the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral and Joy, written for her Gothic in England MA Option (tutor Zoe Opacic) for the Reginald Taylor and Lord Fletcher Essay Prize and was chosen as the winner. The Reginald Taylor Essay Prize, awarded by the British Archaeological Association since 1934, is given for the best unpublished essay submitted on any subject of art-historical, archaeological or antiquarian interest within the period from the Roman era to 1830. As the winner Katherine has received £500 and a medal and will deliver her paper to the British Archaeological Association at the hallowed premises of the Society of Antiquaries at a future date. The paper will also be published this year in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association. This was not only a great achievement for Katherine but also a double win for Birkbeck:  the runner up was Netta Clavner, PhD student at our department only  in the first year of her study. Her essay Arma AngliaeThe Heraldic Glass in the Great East Window of Gloucester Cathedral received high praise by the RTLF committee and was also deemed worthy of publication.

Congratulations to all three of them!

I myself am writing to you from Canada, where I’m spending a week as a visiting scholar in the Faculty of Arts at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I have a long-standing interest in the architecture of carceral institutions, so Kingston is a fascinating place for me as the home of an early nineteenth-century model penitentiary and a ‘lunatic asylum’ (as they were called) from the late 1850s. I’ll be visiting these sites and their archives with colleagues from Queen’s, touring with some medical students around the main university hospital (while thinking about power and space), and giving a public lecture entitled ‘When Room Becomes Cell: Solitude and Isolation in Nineteenth-Century Asylum Spaces’.

Hope everyone has a good break, and we’ll see you next term!

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Cultural Sniping

What a term – strikes and snowstorms! Time for all of us to reflect perhaps on forces bigger even than the Department of History of Art. (As you’ll know, today – Friday 9 March – is not a strike day, but the strike continues next week Monday- Friday 12-16 March. More on the strike here, and please watch your email inboxes for updates.)

Meanwhile, in the interstices, our 50th anniversary events continue – fittingly celebrating a vision of the university as a place open to the world and engaged in its struggles. THIS EVENING, our Anniversary Exhibition opens in the Peltz Gallery with a reception at 6pm. ‘Cultural Sniping: Photographic Collaborations in the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive‘ showcases important materials from the archive (housed in the School of Arts) of the late Jo Spence, British photographer, writer, and self-described ‘cultural sniper’. It traces links and collaborations in activist art, radical publications, community photography and phototherapy from the 1970s and 1980s. Consistent with Spence’s ethos of radical pedagogy, the exhibition focuses on her collaborative working methods. It opens up the archive, displaying books, magazines, journals, collages, photographs, posters, pamphlets, notes, letters and props, to provide insights into Spence’s practices and the culture, politics and activism informing them. This has all come about as a unique collaboration between staff and students, involving Birkbeck History of Art lecturer, Patrizia Di Bello, Associate Research Fellow Frances Hatherly, and a group of History of Art and History of Art with Photography students. It’s on until 28 April so please take a look. (In case you’ve yet to discover it, the Peltz Gallery is in Gordon Square next to the reception area.)

I just snuck in to see how the installation was going, and it looks amazing… Here are the curators in action, eyeballing posters to see if they’re straight.

On Saturday 24 February two of the ‘Forward Looking’ anniversary workshops took place in the cinema, each focused on a distinct aspect of museums and museology. In the morning we heard various positions on ‘Making a Difference: Do Museums Matter in a Changing World?’, organised by Annie Coombes and Gabriel Koureas, while the afternoon, organised by Fiona Candlin, was devoted to ‘Museums Futures in a Time of Austerity’. Both workshops were a compelling mix of academic research and voices from professional practice, and concluded in lively discussions involving the speakers and audience. The day also marked an exciting new development for us: the launch of the department’s newest research centre, the Centre for Museum Cultures  – more on that soon…


The beginning of the UCU strike on 22-23 February meant that the anniversary lecture by V&A director Tristram Hunt and the ‘Future of Studying Old Art’ and the ‘Futures for Publishing in Art History’ workshops were postponed – readers of this blog will be the first to know the rescheduled dates.

Next month own Lynda Nead is giving a major public lecture, ‘Greyscale and Colour: The Hues of Nation and Empire in Post-War Britain’ at the V&A on Monday 9 April 2018 at 7pm – special rates for students.

And here’s a message from the Birkbeck History of Art Society about a great opportunity coming up next week:

Birkbeck History of Art Society has an opportunity to take you to a FREE tour to the Painted Hall ceiling in Old Royal Naval College (Greenwich) next Tuesday (13th of March) at 1 pm.The usual cost of the tickets is 11 pounds, so don’t miss out!

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see James Thornhill’s  masterpiece up close, thanks to the conservation project currently in place.

Please note that that the ceiling is 18 high and you will be using steps, so comfortable shoes are a must. Additionally, let us know if you require wheelchair access.

Due to the specifics of the structure we only take a group of 20 people to see the ceiling. Book your place by writing to us at hoartsociety@gmail.com. Places are on first come, first serve basis. See you there!

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/historyofartbbk/

You can find more about the Painted Hall project here: https://www.ornc.org/painted-hall-project

Kind regards,

Mary, Carina, Ernestina and Tammy

Bye for now!


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Surveys, surveys – oh just go away!

Could you possibly spend a few short minutes giving us some useful feedback? If you’re like me, that question has only one answer: sorry, life is too short. So it’s a bit rich and no doubt very annoying for me to be pestering you students to fill out surveys about your Birkbeck experience. But, but, but, it’s actually really important that you do this. This is your education, your degree, something you’ve given huge amounts of time, effort and emotion, and, we hope, something that’s changed your life. You have to admit it’s not car insurance. And we really want to know what you think and what your reflections are on your time with us.  We regularly act on this feedback to tweak and improve what we offer.

The National Student Survey is the big one. It’s a UK-wide survey of all final year BA students, an opportunity to think back over your whole degree and experience here.You’ll all have been contacted individually about it – or if you can’t find the email(s) you can just go in via the link: http://www.thestudentsurvey.com/ A big thank you and pat on the back for those who’ve already done it. If you haven’t, please do it soon, and the pestering will stop I promise!

There’s also:


  • the Birkbeck Student Survey (opens 8 February 2018) – for all undergrad students, no matter what year you’re in
  • the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES – opens 8 February 2018)
  • the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES – opens 8 February 2018).

Again, you’ll get emails about these, but you’ll be able to get to them via this link:



So everyone has a chance to experience the satisfaction of saying their bit. OK, pestering over.

Other than that, term is well underway, marks and essay feedback are coming in (hope that was a pleasant and/or instructive experience!) and we have reading week next week. More next time I post on all our upcoming events!

Enjoy your reading week.


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