Category Archives: University of Birmingham

Bringing Historical Concepts to life: first-year trip to Tate Modern and the National Gallery

Rebecca Savage gives her account of the recent first year trip to London…

The University of Birmingham provides the ideal opportunity to study paintings at first hand at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts which, as any lecturer will tell you, is an invaluable resource given that the study of painting from powerpoint slides and text books is no substitute for the real thing. It is, however, always exciting to see pictures outside the grounds of the university and a couple of weeks ago the first years (accompanied by some second-year students and, of course, our lecturer, David Hemsoll) visited Tate Modern and the National Gallery on a whistle stop tour of the capital.

Many of us started with the current exhibition at Tate Modern – Works on Paper – a display of drawings, etchings and poetry by the late Louise Bourgeois. These provided an intriguing and sometimes uncomfortable insight into the artist’s interior monologue, displaying private drawings made by the artist late at night, while also demonstrating her talents outside the sculptural work for which she is best known.

The Tate’s collection also gave us all the opportunity to grapple with some of the questions we have been thinking about in our recent module ‘Historical Concepts’ in which we have been learning about a number of activities and questions involved in the study of art history. Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Concept Waiting certainly linked in with themes of ‘what is an artist?’ given the seemingly simplistic process involved in the production of the work and its distance from the traditional criteria for defining ‘fine art’. The jury was also undecided as to whether Michael Baldwin’s work Untitled Painting can be considered art at all, although it did raise questions on the purpose of a painting as a reflection of the real world.

Baldwin’s work – Is this really a painting at all?

Baldwin’s work – Is this really a painting at all?

After a quick break for an overpriced lunch or coffee (let’s face it everything seems expensive on a student budget!) and a desperate run for the coach, which, David insisted, ‘would not wait for us’, we made our way to the bustling Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.

At this point I admit I had a mission. I am writing my first ‘Historical Concepts’ essay on Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and was eager to see first-hand the famous detail of the floorboards and clothing I had been reading so much about. I wasn’t disappointed, after an initial period of confusion (the gallery doesn’t seem that big until you start looking for a single, specific, painting) I found the portrait in a small room. I can honestly say that seeing the colours, technique and brushwork up close has brought it alive for me. Also, I was rather lucky that a group tour happened to be talking about this painting whilst I was looking at it, so I was able to have a sneaky listen in to what they were saying!

The Arnolfini portrait in all its glory.

The Arnolfini portrait in all its glory.

The National Gallery gave everybody the perfect opportunity to see some of the art discussed in lectures and seminars actually in the flesh. We were able to point out the iconography in Antonio de Pollaiuolo’s Martyrdom of St Sebastian presented recently in one of David’s lectures as well as appreciating Berthe Morisot’s images, which we have discussed with lecturer Fran Berry in the module ‘Concepts of Modernism’.

St Sebastian impaled by his traditional arrow attributes

St Sebastian impaled by his traditional arrow attributes

I think we would all agree that our visit to the big city has certainly assisted us with our studies. Whether that’s by seeing specific works, helping us to discover new artists, or, more generally, reminding us of the scope of work there is to be discovered, it has definitely demonstrated to me how much we have already learnt.

Rebel Visions: the War Art of CRW Nevinson

Final year student, Marianne Thomas, reviews the Barber Institute’s latest exhibition…

Having only opened on 24th October, the Barber Institute’s exhibition, Rebel Visions: The War Art of CRW Nevinson seems to be proving very popular. Visitors to the gallery from the local area and further afield have been praising its unique and insightful view of the First World War. So, encouraged by the thought-provoking atmosphere of this centennial November, I decided it was high time that I take a look for myself.

On entering the gallery, I had no idea whatsoever who Nevinson even was, but a concise timeline and introduction displayed within the exhibition space soon put me straight. His biography was rather fascinating – starting off with an art education at UCL, he began working as a Medical Orderly in France in 1914. This led to him witnessing the terrible casualties that would haunt his art for the rest of his life – his position as an official war artist in 1917 only emphasised that.

The way in which Nevinson’s wartime experiences are manifested in his work is clear from the outset, and it is his lifelong and distinctive viewpoint of warfare that the exhibition focuses on. Clearly laid out with succinct, yet informative interpretation labels, Rebel Visions looks at works created during the First World War as well as the post-war years. From the section of the display dedicated to the war period, there were two paintings that really grabbed my attention.

Nevinson, La Patrie, 1916 © Birmingham Museums Trust

Nevinson, La Patrie, 1916 © Birmingham Museums Trust

The first was La Patrie, painted in 1916. This image depicts a makeshift French hospital, where Nevinson worked during the autumn of 1914. The figures of the wounded soldiers are incredibly striking. I’m not much of a Cubism connoisseur, but the men represented in La Patrie certainly seem to fit the stylistic mould. Nevinson uses strong geometrical shapes to form the faces and make them seem contorted with pain and suffering, while the harsh lines of the soldiers’ bodies reminded me of broken machines or fallen robots. The extensive use of black in the painting also adds to the morose feeling, while the title seems to suggest that Nevinson is being satirical – this hardship is what the “motherland” has given its children, and Nevinson doesn’t shy away from highlighting that.

 

Nevinson, 'War Profiteers', 1917 (Reproduced with the kind permission of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth.) ©The Nevinson Estate / Bridgeman Images (http://barber.org.uk/rebel-visions-2/)

Nevinson, War Profiteers, 1917 (Reproduced with the kind permission of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth.) © The Nevinson Estate/Bridgeman Images (http://barber.org.uk/rebel-visions-2/)

The second painting that really stuck with me was War Profiteers, produced a year later. Showing two women dressed lavishly but with mask-like facial features, the image, together with its title, implies that some women actually benefited from warfare, encouraging a feeling of repulsion in the viewer. It certainly achieved this with me; the women appear to be enjoying themselves at the cost of so many lost lives, and the fact that Nevinson paints them in shades of blue only serves to emphasise further their cold demeanours and attitudes. I found myself wondering what contemporary viewers would have made of this controversial and finger-pointing viewpoint, and then realised that this blatant criticism of the elite was probably what earned Nevinson the title of “rebel”.

Then, I decided to take a look at the post-war images and found a painting which grabbed my attention even more. The Unending Cult of Human Sacrifice, 1934, is my favourite painting from the exhibition. This image made me appreciate fully Nevinson’s importance as a war artist – I love how busy and full of meaning it is. A crucifix takes precedence at the centre of the painting, while a huge cannon is represented directly beneath it. Mourning saints are depicted around the edges and images of both traditional and modern weapons fill the foreground. Religion and warfare are juxtaposed, arguably in conflict with one another. Also, the fact that this painting was created just before the Second World War could suggest that Nevinson continued to observe political unrest, regardless of state propaganda to say the contrary, and, perhaps this shows just how “rebellious” his visions were.

Nevinson, The Unending Cult of Human Sacrifice, 1934 © the artist's estate / Bridgeman Images photo credit: Bridgeman Art Library (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/the-unending-cult-of-human-sacrifice-6305)

Nevinson, The Unending Cult of Human Sacrifice, 1934 © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images
photo credit: Bridgeman Art Library (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/the-unending-cult-of-human-sacrifice-6305)

So, upon leaving the exhibition, I had a much clearer idea of who CRW Nevinson was and what he represented. None of his works glorify warfare; the events are portrayed as being brutal, cold and machine-like, destroying the lives of any soldiers who were involved. One hundred years after the First World War began, I think that Nevinson’s work is as important as ever, and this exhibition certainly succeeds in hammering home his message.

See Rebel Visions: The War Art of CRW Nevinson 24 October 2014 – 25 January 2015, free entry, Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Research Seminar #3: Krzysztof Fijalkowski (Norwich University of the Arts): Cubomania: Collage, destruction and desire

UoB crest

DEPARTMENT OF ART HISTORY, FILM AND VISUAL STUDIES RESEARCH SEMINAR SERIES 2014 – 15

Thursday 13th November 2015, 5:15pm

Barber Photograph Room

Krzysztof Fijalkowski (Norwich University of the Arts)

Cubomania: Collage, destruction and desire

Cubomania

Collage practices based around the recuperation and juxtaposition of found printed images have long been a staple of the critical and curatorial reception of Surrealism. This seminar, however, considers just one, so far virtually undocumented instance of Surrealist collage, cubomania, developed under siege conditions in wartime Bucharest by the poet Gherasim Luca and pursued by him for some five decades. The simple procedure of cutting photographs or reproductions into regular squares so as to re-assemble them into grids adopts a deceptively modest format, but Luca’s accompanying theoretical framework sees the results as miniature testing-grounds for some surprisingly challenging ideas, harnessing the tensions between erotic desire and violent revolutionary consciousness that might eventually be applied to a transformation of the world itself.

Enquiries to Jamie Edwards: jle756@bham.ac.uk

AAH Careers day at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, by MRes student, Holly Wain

This year the Association of Art Historians’ Careers Day, organised by the AAH student Committee, was held right here on campus at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 25 October 2014. This was a great opportunity to listen to the wise words of speakers from a range of arts and heritage institutions without having to travel across the country! The day was split into several talks with the opportunity for informal questions over tea breaks and lunch.

AAh careers day

AAH student committee member and UoB PhD student, Imogen, who organised the careers day

The speakers represented a really wide range of careers in the arts and heritage sector. This was refreshing to see as it is easy to assume that arts and heritage is limited to museums and galleries. Here, I felt that a wide range of interests had been taken into account. For example, the first speaker was Reyahn King, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands – I found her talk particularly interesting as, recently, I have become more interested in pursuing a career in the protection of historic buildings. This is a sector that can appear quite confusing as organisations range from government funded bodies to charities and trusts. Also, there is a distinction between practical conservation and those who manage the strategy and policies. I found Reyahn’s talk very useful as she gave details on her first roles after graduation. Reyahn gave a very positive message to reassure undergraduates, explaining that she did not take the obvious route to work at HLF, but that this was completely fine as you can experience different areas of the sector and still be gaining skills that can be used elsewhere.

Alex careers

Alex is pictured here talking about museum education

Alex Jolly, Learning and Access Assistant at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, gave us an insight into the roles involved in a museum’s education department. As well as giving a detailed view of the strategy behind making the collections accessible and enjoyable for a wide range of people, Alex gave some helpful general advice for job searching in the sector. I picked up some new websites for searching for job opportunities, for example Engage.org and National Museum Directors Council website. Alex also stressed that when applying for those first jobs after graduating you should not be afraid to apply for a role if you feel under qualified, as it is enthusiasm and ideas that count.

Hannah careers day

Former UoB History of Art student, Hannah, is shown here talking about her career path

Hannah Carroll, a former History of Art student at the University of Birmingham, explained the day-to-day tasks involved in her role as a Marketing Officer at Birmingham Museums. Hannah encouraged students to volunteer as much as possible to gain a sense of what each role entails and what you would be most suited to. This was important to Hannah as she had never seen herself going into the marketing side of things until she gained that practical work experience.

Connie careers

UoB graduate, Connie, presented on her experience as Pop Art curator

For those looking ahead to a career as a curator, Dr Connie Wan discussed her role as Pop Art Curator at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. She gave us details about her career path, including her collaborative PhD, before explaining her role as a curator. Connie explained that, although the common belief is that a curator ‘points and chooses’, there is, in fact, a whole host of other activities involved in her role: for example, travelling around the world to carry out research in different archives and building relationships with contemporary artists. Connie started out studying graphic design and moved on to research nineteenth-century art before her role as Pop Art curator. She encouraged us to see our lack of knowledge in certain areas not as a hindrance but, rather, an opportunity to learn. I think these words were definitely a reassurance to all students in the audience!

Carly careers 2

UoB doctoral researcher, Carly, talked about her local oral histories project, Digbeth Speaks

The day also included a talk by Carly Hegenbarth, a History of Art PhD student at the University of Birmingham. She presented the academic side to careers in the arts and gave a detailed view of the work involved in further study. Carly’s talk emphasised the rewarding nature of doctoral research in discovering new knowledge, as well as the opportunities to get involved in activities outside of your own research. For example, Carly managed a HLF-funded oral histories project, Digbeth Speaks, in 2013.

Jane careers

Jane can be seen here presenting case studies of her work in conservation

The more practical side to museums was presented by Jane Thompson-Webb, Conservator at Birmingham Museums. Jane began by giving us a detailed account of the different types of work involved in caring for the collections and then gave examples of the projects that she had undertaken, showing the astonishing results with ‘before and after’ photos. Jane described the different career paths available for those interested in a future in conservation, from university postgraduate courses to apprenticeships. [To find out about the current volunteering opportunities at Birmingham Museums with the Conservation department, click here].

To close the day Chris Packham, Careers and Employability Consultant for the Careers Network in the College of Arts and Law at the University of Birmingham, gave us some tips on networking and keeping up to date with what is going on in our chosen fields via Twitter and LinkedIn.

I would like to thank all the speakers for a very informative day with lots of advice and tips for starting out with job searches and applications. I also really appreciated the positive outlook that all the speakers had for our prospects as History of Art graduates.

Semester 1 Programme

EL'E:

EMREM – the postgraduate forum for Early Medieval, Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation and Early Modern studies – launches its Autumn programme. First event – a conference workshop – this Wednesday.

Originally posted on The EMREM Forum:

EMREM would like to announce their programme of events for the semester. 

Wednesday 15th October 2014 2.30-3.30pm

 Peter Gelling Library, room 315 Arts Building

Conference Workshop

Wednesday 29th October 2014 2.30-3.30pm

Computer Room 3rd floor ERI Building

Estoria de Espanna Presentation and Demonstration

Wednesday 12th November 2014 2.30-3.30pm

Peter Gelling Library, room 315 Arts Building

Research Presentation Session

Wednesday 26th November 2014 2.30-3.30pm

 Peter Gelling Library, room 315 Arts Building

Manuscripts, Libraries and Archives

Wednesday 10th December 2014 4-7pm

Fage Libray, Arts Building

End of Term Wine Reception

sem 1 programme

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AAH Art History Careers Day: Saturday 25 October, Barber Institute

We’re delighted that this year’s Association of Art Historians (AAH) Careers Day is taking place at our very own Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham on Saturday 25 October.

The event will introduce a range of careers opportunities which are available to art history students. There will be a series of informal talks by speakers from leading cultural institutions who will share their professional experiences and expertise in areas including curatorship, art management, gallery marketing and education, and research. 

Tickets (includes lunch and refreshments):

AAH members £8; non-members £12

Places are limited and tickets must be bought online in advance:

 www.aah.org.uk/events/careers-in-art-history 
Speakers:
Reyahn King (Head of Heritage Lottery Fund, West Midlands)
Dr Connie Wan (Pop Art Curator, Wolverhampton Art Gallery)
Sarah Shirley-Priest (Senior Specialist and Branch Manager, Bonhams)
Jane Thompson Webb (Conservator, Birmingham Museums Trust)
Alex Jolly (Learning & Access Assistant, Barber Institute of Fine Arts)
Hannah Carroll (Marketing Officer, Birmingham Museums)
Carly Hegenbarth (Doctoral Researcher, University of Birmingham)
Chris Packham (Careers Consultant, Arts and Law, University of Birmingham) 

This event is supported by the Careers Network at the University of Birmingham.

Join our Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1469125306681559/

For enquiries, please contact the event co-organisers:
Imogen Wiltshire: ixw713@bham.ac.uk
Charlotte Stokes: charlotte.j.stokes@gmail.com
Ana Bilbao: aebilb@essex.ac.uk

AAH Careers Day Barber Institute

 

Welcoming Professor Tamar Garb – The Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies Research Seminar Series 2014 – 15

We are pleased to announce that the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies will be welcoming Professor Tamar Garb to kick-off this year’s Research Seminar Series on Thursday 9 October. Currently Durning Lawrence Professor in the History of Art at University College London, and recently elected a Fellow of the British Academy, we are thrilled to be hosting Tamar, who will be delivering a lecture about her recent research on African studio portraits:

 

Photo Albums and Fancy Dress: Encounters with the African Archive

 

Weinberg, Nelson Mandela

 Prof. Tamar Garb

Durning Lawrence Professor in the History of Art, University College London

Fellow of the British Academy

Thursday October 9th 2014, 5:15pm, Strathcona Lecture Theatre 1

This lecture will look at the artifice and stageyness of African studio portraits via the project ‘Black Photo Album’ by Santu Mofokeng, the performed veracity of Samuel Fosso’s disguised self representations, and the ubiquity of a specific image of the young Nelson Mandela, widely regardedas ‘traditional’ and authentic. Throughout photographic portraiture is considered as a medium that mobilises the artifice of the studio, fancy dress and costume in the production of photogenic and fitting subjects.

All welcome!

Please also note that the full schedule for the Department’s Research Seminar series will be made available soon.

Please forward enquiries to Jamie Edwards: jle756@bham.ac.uk

Why I like this module… The Political Thriller on Film: Ideology, Genre, Emotion

Grace Higgins, finalist, BA History of Art

Grace Higgins, finalist, BA History of Art

 “One of the most interesting modules I studied at university was The Political Thriller on Film. The module, which looks at the film genre of the Political Thriller, explores how film makers since the 1960s have used the genre as a vehicle to explore the ongoing challenges and controversies of a highly politicised modern world. Having not previously had the chance to study film, the course has given me the opportunity to apply my visual analytical skills in a different way, alongside learning key theoretical concepts, exploring response to film and the debates raised.

Discussion and participation are heavily encouraged, as every other week we have the chance to respond directly to films we have watched, which range from the The Parallax View, the American thriller based on the investigation of the assassination of a senator, to The Battle of Algiers, about the urban guerrilla warfare used by Algeria to gain independence from France.”

Untitled2 Untitled3

This final year 20-credit module:

  • Untitled4Is taught by Dr Alex Marlow-Mann, a specialist of European and especially Italian cinema
  • Explores the evolution of the political thriller on film from the 1960s – present in a range of national and political contexts
  • analyses if and how the genre of political thriller can be used as a vehicle for political change
  • Examines questions of audience engagement

Why I like this module… Michelangelo

Jamie Edwards, PhD Student, UoB

Jamie Edwards, PhD Student, UoB

“I jumped at the chance to take David’s course on Michelangelo for the third year of my Art History degree. I had studied 15th-century art and architecture with David in the second year and wanted to develop my interest in Renaissance art to much greater depth, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. David’s expertise, not to mention his infectious enthusiasm, fully brought to life Michelangelo’s world and his famous works such as the David. The course considers Michelangelo’s life and output, from his rise to fame in the Medici Untitled5household, through to the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and on to his final works of sculpture and architecture. It also puts Michelangelo’s art in its cultural context: how does Michelangelo’s representation of the body fit in with contemporary debates about beauty and a polemic about style? What is the Sistine ceiling all about, really? Along the way, the artist’s “challenging” character was also revealed to us through the analysis of contemporary sources, notably Giorgio Vasari’s Life of Michelangelo. In all, the Michelangelo course was thoroughly fascinating, enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, and it led in no small part to my decision to research 16th-century art at postgraduate level, which I am still doing now (… some 4 years later … happily still under the influence of David’s unabated enthusiasm!).”

Untitled6

This final year special subject:Untitled7

  • Is taught by David Hemsoll, a specialist in the art and architecture of Renaissance Italy
  • Focuses on the wide-ranging works of Michelangelo, identifying his artistic objectives, his special achievements, his influence and his reputation.
  • Explores the artistic context within which Michelangelo worked
  • Examines critically both primary and secondary written and visual sources

Why I like this module… Fashioning Flesh and Technology: Modernism and the Body in Germany 1918-1933

Sarah Cowie, finalist, BA English and History of Art

Sarah Cowie, finalist, BA English and History of Art

Fashioning Flesh and Technology is one of the most fascinating modules I’ve taken at Birmingham. The topics explored range from technology and its effect on the war veteran’s body to mass culture and the New Woman, providing a thorough examination of how artists, architects, designers, and filmmakers responded to the dramatic social and political changes incurred in Germany’s interwar years. In particular, I have enjoyed the opportunity to study the representation of the mechanised body in films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and postwar trauma in Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The experience has challenged the way in which I analyse imagery, as well as informing my English Literature Dissertation on fiction and cinematography. The seminars encourage group debate on the diverse topics introduced in the lectures, with both contemporary textual sources (for example, the writings of Freud, Kracauer, and Benjamin) and more recent scholarship on the body in modern visual culture enriching these discussions. The material covered and the interdisciplinary approach has really suited my interest in European modern art and has certainly inspired me to consider further study in this area.”

Untitled2 Untitled3

This final year special subject :

  • Untitled4is taught by Dr Camilla Smith, a specialist in the visual cultures of England, Switzerland and the Weimar Republic
  • Considers the concept of German Modernism in relation to discourses on real and imagined bodies from 1918-1933
  • uses a range of visual, textual and film sources to explore Modernism’s relationship to themes such as the metropolis, mass culture, technology and sexuality
  • analyses works by artists and authors such as Freud, Foucault, Loos, Dix, and Schenker
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