Monthly Archives: May 2014

Ain’t no party like a Bauhaus party . . .!

Bauhaus

Students from the Art History department and the Barber Association have organised a summer soirée for everyone in the department to celebrate the end of the year, the end of exams(!), and to see off our finalists with a bang!

It takes place on Monday 9 June from 7-10pm in the Barber.

The theme is Bauhaus, and fancy-dress is welcome, encouraged, even – time to don your thinking caps, perhaps take cue from the above photograph of Oskar Schlemmer’s  Bauhaus costumes from the 1920s! Otherwise, dress in metallics.

Tickets cost £18, with a reduced ticket price of £15 for Barber Association members. The event will include:

- Drinks on arrival

- Light buffet

- Photographer

- Live music

…and last but not least…

- A photo booth  (for flaunting all those ace Bauhaus-esque outfits!)

You will be allowed to bring some alcohol with you, as long as it is not spirits or red wine. So feel free to bring along some white wine or fizz to celebrate another year’s hard work!

Tickets can be purchased from the Barber reception or from your year reps. Plus ones are more than welcome. The Facebook event can be found here.

 

 

Calling all HoA Graduates…Barber internships are now available!

Barber logo

MUSEUM INTERNSHIPS 2014/15

The Barber Institute is offering six museum internships over the coming year. The internships are designed to provide work experience for graduates with a degree in History of Art or a related subject, who are seeking a career in museums and galleries. Internships last twenty weeks and start in either September 2014 or February 2015. Interns work 21.5 hours per week and will be paid at a rate of £7.53 per hour.

To get an idea of what an internship can involve, read Sophie Rycroft’s post about her time working as a Collections in term.

 

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

 

1)        Collections Internships

 We are offering two internships working with our Collections team. Interns will gain experience in all aspects of curatorial work, including research, documentation and the planning, organisation and installation of exhibitions. They will also be given the opportunity to curate a small display of prints and drawings and to give gallery talks.

2)        Learning and Access Internships

 We are offering two internships working with our Learning and Access team. Interns will gain experience in all aspects of the planning, organisation and delivery of learning activities, which encourage the study of art and enable our visitors to enjoy, understand and reflect upon the Barber’s unique collection of paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures and decorative arts.

 3)        Communications and Marketing Internships

 We are offering two internships working with our Communications and Marketing team. Interns will gain experience in all aspects of the planning, organisation and delivery of targeted marketing, social media, media relations, public relations and other communications campaigns aimed at encouraging different sectors of the community to visit the Barber and participate in its events and activities.

How to Apply

Applicants should be able to demonstrate a strong interest in, or knowledge of, History of Art, preferably supported by a formal academic qualification. In addition, they should have excellent communication and computing skills and a commitment to working in museums and galleries.

For further particulars and an application form, please visit the University of Birmingham’s website http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/jobs. The closing date for applications is Monday 9 June 2014. Interviews will be held in the week starting 23 June 2014.

The Barber Institute’s Internship Programme 2014/15 is sponsored by NADFAS (through the Patricia Fay Memorial Fund), the Chris Gait Endowment Fund and the Patrons of the Barber Institute.

 

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“I’d rather gouge out my eyes with a rusty penknife than call myself a connoisseur . . . ” Connoisseurship Now?

Anon. The Connoisseur, 1830, lithograph and watercolour, Yale Center for British Art

Anon. The Connoisseur, 1830, lithograph and watercolour, Yale Center for British Art

I’m writing (but not posting) this on the train back up to Brum from London. I’ve been at the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art, where I’d never been before and is really rather lovely, and which today (Friday 2nd May) hosted a one-day conference dedicated to a discussion of the future of connoisseurship and its (uneasy) place in modern art historical scholarship: An Educated Eye: Connoisseurship Now. And I must say, it was a thoroughly enjoyable, thought-provoking, and at times slightly strange, conference.

The big question is: does connoisseurship have a future? For the uninitiated reader, the question perhaps reads like an odd one. Isn’t art history all about who painted/sculpted/drew what and when did they do it? And aren’t art historians precisely the sorts of people who are qualified to pontificate on precisely those sorts of things? Art historians can spot their Rembrandts from their Rubens from miles off with their “Educated Eyes”, can’t they? For that matter, aren’t art historians and connoisseurs the same thing anyway? Once upon a time, perhaps the answer would have been “YES” on all these counts; the early days of art history in the 19th and early 20th centuries are marked by a noticeable desire to point out that “X painted Y in Z”, qualified along the way with statements like “We know this because that’s exactly how X did eyes, fingernails, hairdos…, ears,… especially in his “middle period”…” etc. (we’re in the realm of Morelli, here).

Morelli's artists' ears

Morelli’s artists’ ears

But it’s not quite that straightforward. For as long as connoisseurs have existed, they’ve been satirised by artists and derided as phonies (in Bruegel’s famous drawing of the Artist and Connoisseur, Bruegel has the connoisseur wearing glasses, which was probably intended as a dig at the connoisseur’s claims of possessing innately  “educated eyes”).  In other words, the label connoisseur always seems to have carried some pejorative associations. And things then got really tricky for connoisseurs in about the 1970s/80s with the emergence of so-called “New Art History”: so that’s stuff like social art history and feminist art history, with which art history undergraduates become intimately familiar from the get-go at Brum and pretty much every other art history department in the UK . The practitioners of new art histories professed a severe disinterest in the fact that “X painted Y in Z”, and “we know this because X always painted his eyes like that”, which it deemed myopic and trivial. New wave art historians instead sought to instill intellectual rigor into the discipline of art history and to analyse artworks with a view to revealing more profound, erudite insights about artworks in their social, political, religious . . . cultural . . . . etc. contexts.

Bruegel, Artist and Connoisseur, c.1565, pen and ink on paper, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna

Bruegel, Artist and Connoisseur, c.1565, pen and ink on paper, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna

As a consequence, the art world, encompassing the academy, galleries/museums, the art market, and the connoisseurs (which up to then had kind of straddled all those realms) was drawn into a polemic: proper art history ain’t about who did what when, said the new generation of scholars, whereas the art market and museums remained—remain in fact—steadfastly keen on precisely those sorts of things. Let’s not beat around the bush, a picture is worth a LOT more if it’s demonstrably a “Rembrandt” instead of a “Dirk, the painter from up the road”, and the gallery visitor is, I guess, more satisfied to learn that Rembrandt painted this image of himself in 1669, rather than “unknown self portrait of a 17th-century Dutch artist, date unknown”.

This conference was about making sense of those debates, casting an eye over what’s happened during the intervening years since the emergence of new art history, and to cast a prophetic eye into the future and ask what room there is for connoisseurship in art world going forward. And the answer was surprisingly comforting: there is still cause to be concerned with who made what and when, and that this is in fact a prerequisite for embarking on, say, a social art historical investigation into the work of a given artist. As Liz Prettejohn lucidly described, how are you supposed to know what social context to situate a work of art in if you don’t know/care about when/where the artwork was made, which, often, entails considerations of a connoisseurial kind. However, connoisseurship as an autonomous art is no longer viable, not least of all because it’s unsustainable, which is to say that if we cling on to practicing  connoisseurship in the traditional sense, what do we do once we’ve figured out the who made what and when for every work of art there is? We’d have, in other words, nothing left to do.

Everyone in the room seemed to agree here. There was a general consensus that we probably should all care about things like attribution, dates, provenance and so forth, if, for nothing else, for the sake of conscientious history and the preservation of our heritage, and because it provides the bare materials, if you like, for art historical research. There was pretty much agreement, as well, that perhaps connoisseurship should be re-introduced to university curricula–or else, something that is the same in gist but goes under a different name given the dodgy associations of connoisseur (although nobody in the room could come up with a suitable alternative!). As was pointed out on more than one occasion, connoisseurship, but in particular the vital skills of visual analysis and description, are no longer inculcated in university art history degree programs and far too many art historians consequently spend too much of their time NOT looking, or perhaps don’t know how to look, at the objects of their study. Visual discernment has gone out the window, and new art history has come in through the front door (and is refusing to leave the hallway). (PLUG ALERT: I don’t think the last statement holds true in the case of the Art History department at Birmingham. We’re blessed to be based in the Barber Institute, whose stellar collection is at our disposal, and so visual analysis is actually at the very heart of what we do here!)

But what was MOST revealing during the conference are the lingering antagonisms that have persisted from 1980s and continue to divide, say, the art dealer from the art historian.

It’s an antagonism that is brought into sharp focus when we contrast Martin Myrone’s opinions (who is curator of pre-1800’s art at the Tate) with those expressed by Bendor Grosvenor (the chap from the BBC’s Fake or Fortune… but who is also a serious scholar and the author of a very good blog), who represented the art-dealer-cum-unabashed-connoisseur at the conference. Grosvenor is all about the eureka moment that comes from when one is presented, as a connoisseur, with a picture that has languished in some dusty museum rack for decades but is “obviously” a lost van Dyck (= a hitherto undiscovered masterpiece worth squillions). Grosvenor was upfront about it: he needs connoisseurship in his line of work as a dealer because collectors want names. But he was also astounded by how few art historians actually practice connoisseurship and have no clue about how to look at pictures – “it’s like having a fully-trained doctor who is unable to make a diagnosis”, he said. For his money, good old fashioned visual analysis is a prerequisite to proper art historical research, and I think I agree with him here. For his part, Myrone said “so what?” to connoisseurship. In these difficult financial times, should museums/galleries really expend their time, effort and money on all-things connoisseurial? Does it really matter whether a landscape can be proved to be by Gainsborough or not (he had a dig at Bendor’s Fake or Fortune here)? Laying aside the matter of commercial value which is indelibly linked to authorship, a landscape’s a landscape, surely, and can be studied and enjoyed as such?

One of these two drawings, both in the BM, is by Michelangelo . . .

One of these two drawings, both in the BM, is by Michelangelo . . .

In all, pretty interesting stuff. The connoisseur problem is clearly still alive. Hugo Chapman, who is curator of old master drawings at the British Museum, avoids the label connoisseur, beginning his talk with the words quoted in the title to this post: “I’d rather gouge out my eyes with a rusty penknife than call myself a connoisseur . . . ”. Chapman explained that it isn’t necessarily what connoisseurship is that makes him anxious (Chapman, after all, does connoisseurship at work – how else did he decide which of the two drawings in the BM of an Ideal Female Head is by Michelangelo?) it’s more what the word means, or is perceived to mean: snooty, posh bloke who, just by looking, knows instantly what something is, who it’s by etc., and isn’t very much interested in anything else. In sum, then, perhaps connoisseurship is still important and relevant to us all, scholars, curators and dealers alike, but the word has too much baggage. Perhaps, then, we need to stop and have a re-think  as to what connoisseurship is, what it entails, how we do it and for what purposes, and, for that matter, what we call it. And perhaps we really do need to re-consider how or if it’s taught in universities.

 

Jamie Edwards

 

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