Monthly Archives: May 2013

AAH Student Summer Symposium 2013, Identity: Construction and Meaning

This year’s AAH Student Summer Symposium, on the theme of ‘Identity: Construction and Meaning’, will be held at Trinity College, University of Oxford, on 20-21 June.

Keynote Speakers
Professor Craig Clunas, History of Art, University of Oxford
Identity On and Identity In the Modern Chinese Painting

Professor Marcia Pointon, Senior Research Professor, Norwich University of the Arts
Casts, Masks and Questions of Identity

Bob and Roberta Smith, Artist and Honorary Fellow of Arts, University College Bournemouth
What is an Artist Anyway?

The concept of ‘identity’ is prolific within the visual arts and in many ways its pertaining issues have shaped the discipline of art history. The biographical approach to reading artists’ work privileged by Vasari in his Lives (1550) has had a lasting influence. The portrait remains an effective medium through which to narrate the historical and contemporary identity of particular institutions and nations, and the art market continues to rely upon authentic attribution. Yet this art history of names remains problematic and by no means comprehensively represents either the discipline of art history or the plural notions of identity that have come to influence it.

During the twentieth century, subjectivity was critiqued and revised: psychoanalysis destabilized the concept of a consistent and whole subject, positioning the self as an illusion of stability and a site of fragmentation; Barthes and Foucault challenged notions of authorship, arguing instead that the reader-viewer be considered in the creation and interpretation of a work. More recently, gender and postcolonial theory has cast light on notions of identity understood as performance and as Otherness, and new technologies, such as the Internet, have altered relations between international communities and provided new platforms for constructing identity.
As art history has increasingly incorporated theories and approaches from other disciplines, how might we characterize art history’s identity as a discipline and to what extent does thinking about notions of identity offer a productive framework for the art historian?

For a full list of papers and more information click here

Symposium Convenors: Allison Goudie, Nicola McCartney, Charlotte Stokes, Imogen Wiltshire

Places are limited. Book online. Tickets: Members £35; Non-Members £45 


The Exchange Perspective from “la Montréalaise”, by Chia-Yi Lin

When I found out that I was nominated for student exchange in the UK, I was ecstatic. As an art historian studying at McGill University in Montreal, I believe there is nothing more exciting than studying an artefact in its original state. That said, Montreal, despite being the second oldest city in all of North America, is still young in terms of its history and the production of art. I felt as if I needed to immerse myself in the seat of Western art and explore its provenance.

The Barber- an impressive exterior

The Barber- an impressive exterior

I arrived at the University of Birmingham in the mild British winter of January armed with a luggage full of hope and expectations. I was pleasantly surprised to see how quaint the campus was.

The peaceful river parallel to the train tracks in Birmingham

The peaceful river parallel to the train tracks in Birmingham

A very British house!

A very British house!

Let's not forget the central tower!

Let’s not forget the central tower!

I was staying at the Vale which was beautiful but to me seemed slightly out of the way: the twenty minute walk each way to campus was something I was not accustomed to back at home. However, this walk allowed me to catch a glimpse of the neighbourhood and other facilities which the University of Birmingham boasts such as Winterbourne House.

The gorgeous swan of the Vale lake

The gorgeous swan of the Vale lake

Shackleton of the Vale

Shackleton of the Vale

Needless to say, all aspects of this exchange have contributed to my overall experience. So, even before the course lecturer walked in the room on the first day of my course, I had learnt something from my peers. Forgive my bias but I’ve always thought art history students dressed better than those from other departments and it was no different here! Basking in the different sense of fashion and the array of accents, I quickly processed how the small number of students matched the equally small Barber Photograph Room where our lectures and seminars were to be held. This would, however, prove to be advantageous. The large hall back at home suddenly seemed too formal when compared to this intimate setting. In a short period of time, I have reassessed my presentation skills, developed a group friendly work ethic and engaged in this peer-learning environment.

Inside the Barber

Inside the Barber

Lady Barber's portrait settled in the foyer to remind us of the purpose of her gift

Lady Barber’s portrait settled in the foyer to remind us of the purpose of her gift

Let’s rewind to that moment when the course lecturer walked in the room. I immediately felt the difference of approachability in that she prefers to be called by her first name instead of referring to her status of a doctor. I soon realized that all my lecturers were not only specialized in their fields in regards to the artefacts being studied and their histories, but are also fluent in the languages of their context. Their hands-on experience with objects led to the ‘hands on art’ teaching that I was soon pleasantly faced with. The three courses I took were Inside the Gallery, Introduction to Art and Architecture in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, and Power, Society, Politics: Religious Art in Northern Europe, c. 1400-1600. These three courses were all very different to each other and at the same time all reflected a different teaching style to Art History at McGill. Inside the Gallery was a practical course where we were evaluated on an exhibition we had to curate. Power, Society, Politics gave me a good survey on English and North European religious art. Lastly, modernism, which was never my forte, was simplified and enriched through Fin-de-Siècle Vienna.

La Montréalaise

La Montréalaise

Compared to the mediated experience of artefacts on projections and screens, my interior exploded with joy when centuries old manuscripts and documents from an extensive archive were plopped onto my lap during seminars. The fact that I was touching original materials and could actually feel the texture of manuscript pages would not have been possible at home where the closest proximity anyone could get was a nose inch away… from the thick glass encasing. This was not exclusive to the resources of the University’s Barber Institute, but seems to be a feature of the way galleries across Britain present their art objects. It is obvious that the UK is a country that cherishes and preserves its own history. There is no doubt that as an art history student, I am soaking up every inch of this wonderful opportunity.

Journal of Art Historiography, Conference 2013: Negotiating Boundaries – The Plural Fields of Art History

The 2013 conference of the Journal of Art Historiography (which is published by the Art History, Film and Visual Studies Department, University of Birmingham) Negotiating Boundaries – The Plural Fields of Art History is to be held at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, on 1-2 July 2013.

Keynote Speakers:
Robert Bagley (Princeton University), Styles, Periods and the Life Cycle of the Goblin
Alice Donohue (Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania), History and the Historian of Ancient Art

Speakers: Laura Camille Agoston (Trinity University, San Antonio ), Priyanka Basu (St Norbert College, Wisconsin), Colleen Becker (Columbia University), Laura Breen (University of Westminster), Lesley Brubaker (University of Birmingham), Antoinette Friedenthal (Independent Scholar), Jannis Galanopoulos and Georgia Metaxa (University of Crete and Athens School of Fine Art), Jack Hartnell (The Courtauld Institute of ArtLondon), Sandy Heslop and Joanne Clarke (Sainsbury Institute for Art, East Anglia), Stefan Muthesius (University of East Anglia), Meredith Nelson-Berry (Brad Graduate Centre, New York), Heike Neumeister (Birmingham City University), Amalia Papaioannou  (Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University).

The formation of art history as a discipline was underpinned by the claim to a special area of expertise which, in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was accompanied by the development of particular concepts and methods, from the formal and spatial analysis of Wölfflin, Riegl or Schmarsow to the iconology of Panofsky. Linked to the emergence of the concept of autonomous art, the establishment of the discipline was achieved by means of certain exclusions; a rigid line of demarcation was drawn between art history and archaeology, aesthetic judgments were deemed irrelevant and, in a mirroring of Kantian thought, the decorative and applied arts became the objects of a separate, less prestigious, domain of inquiry.

For all the recent talk of interdisciplinarity, these exclusions still shape the terrain of scholarship, producing numerous incongruities. Art historians still seldom discuss the applied arts, while in the Anglophone world architectural history remains a separate subject (with its own professional and discursive institutions). Prehistoric art and the art of the classical worlds are still topics mostly of interest for archaeologists rather than art historians, while the division between fine art and the applied arts has produced a caesura between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’ in the historiography of, for example, the art of the Islamic world or China.

This conference is not concerned with calling for a renewed embrace of interdisciplinary thinking, but rather with considering the implications of the status quo. Why are certain art historical topics still the domain of researchers in other disciplines? What are the consequences? Given the contemporary skepticism towards totalizing forms of thought, should it be even seen as a problem that discourse on art is so plural?

Click here for the full programme details.

Daily rate: £30 Full conference: £50
Students and unwaged: £10 daily rate
There is no fee for University of Birmingham students

To book your place please visit our secure online shop and follow the link to the College of Arts and Law conference and events page

Iconoclasts R Us! By Lauren Dudley, M.Phil student

Since 2011 I have been lucky enough to be a member of an AHRC-funded Iconoclasms network, led by Dr Richard Clay and Professor Leslie Brubaker in collaboration with Tate. The network is made up of academics, museum professionals and postgraduate researchers. Members are based in Europe and the United States and have a wide range of subject specialisms, but we have a shared research interest in iconoclasm. Between us we cover a history of iconoclasm from the pre-historic period to the present day.

The project involves three workshops; the first was held in London at Tate Britain and Tate Modern (October 2011), the second was at Notre Dame University, South Bend, USA (September 2012) and the final session will be in the UK in September 2013. The network was initially set up as an advisory board for an upcoming exhibition about British Iconoclasm at Tate Britain which is opening in September 2013. The members of the network have each contributed an essay to a forthcoming Ashgate publication, due to be released around the time of the exhibition. I was invited to the network by Richard Clay, who is my MPhil supervisor. He also supervised my undergraduate dissertation which was about the painting Allegorical Tomb of Lord Somers (c.1726, V&A, London) and was when I first started to think about iconoclasm in relation to my research. When choosing a painting to study for my final year dissertation back in 2009 I never would have imagined that I would still be writing about it four years later, let alone having an essay published!

Before the first workshop in London I was really nervous about working alongside senior academics and discussing a subject that was relatively new to me. However, the group was very welcoming and interested to hear everyone’s contribution. The workshop involved presenting images and talking about them in relation to iconoclasm, so I showed some eighteenth-century ruin paintings by Hubert Robert, whose work is the focus of my current research. The workshop format worked really well as there was lots of discussion around iconoclasm as a whole, which also provided new ideas for our individual research, so the sessions were very productive. It helped that our discussions were based on ideas for the Iconoclasm exhibition as it gave us a clear focus. At that stage we were talking about the rationale behind the exhibition and looking at potential objects and themes. We left London feeling excited about the exhibition and were geared up to write our chapters for the book.

Nearly a year later we re-convened at Notre Dame, this time we had a draft of our chapters prepared for the Iconoclasm book and we each had to study and comment on someone else’s essay, ideal for the long flight to Chicago! I think we were all amazed to see that there were so many recurrent themes throughout our essays. Of course they were all linked by iconoclasm, but each essay expanded the subject and at the same time had clear links with at least one other essay in the volume. At this workshop the plans for the exhibition had significantly developed. Tabitha Barber and Dr Stacy Boldrick (the lead curators) presented the chronological and thematic parameters of the exhibition and went through the loan list. It was fascinating to hear their stories about tracking down objects and in some cases debating whether or not an object could be considered as an example of iconoclasm! The exhibition will present a history of British iconoclasm through a diverse range of images and objects from the Middle Ages to the present day, each with a fascinating story. The discussions around the exhibition showed that iconoclasm is an integral part of British history, I just wonder whether Tate’s gift shop would accept Professor James Simpson’s idea to print the slogan ‘Iconoclasts R Us’ on some merchandise!

George Catlin – the NPG videos with our very own JH student, Sophie Edwards!

In February, second year Joint Honours History and History of Art student Sophie Edwards told us about her experience curating an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on the American artist, George Catlin.

Now you can see Sophie talking about it in the new videos on the NPG’s website!

Sophie NPG

The exhibition runs from 7 March until 23 June at the National Portrait Gallery in London (admission free).

A pop-up event makes Lauren Dudley, MPhil student, happy.

After hearing that the Municipal Bank on Broad Street was opening its doors for a 3-day contemporary art exhibition I was really keen to see inside a historic building that is normally locked up and is often used as an extension of the bus stop! PhD student, Carly and I dashed through the rain into the very chilly former bank. It was a fantastic experience and was certainly worth the numb hands and feet!

DSC03073  DSC03107

The exhibition ‘Thrift Radiates Happiness’ – organised by the contemporary art gallery, TROVE and international design practice, Aedas – was a response to the grand architecture of this empty, former bank. All of the exhibits related to money and were quirky and thought-provoking. The displays and installations would only really have meaning in this particular setting. By entering an abandoned space that was once a financial hub which but had become derelict, there seemed to be an underlying comment about the current state of the economy. The works that filled the empty office spaces questioned the value of art and the relationship between culture and commerce.

DSC03098  DSC03103

In the vaults we were offered the opportunity to make an investment of £2. We would find in our deposit box either a photograph of the bank from the archives or an original work of art, and the idea was that our investment would immediately go up in value. It was very exciting… Carly had two photographs of the vaults and I opened my box to find a print by Sparrow+Castice.

thrift 1  DSC03119

As part of the project, oral histories from former bank employees were recorded and available to listen to in the grand hall of the bank. This was a brilliant way of using the space; let’s hope that the bank re-opens its doors for more exciting pop-up events!

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