Monthly Archives: January 2014

Making the Most of Brum! Art Internship and Experience Opportunities in our City, by finalist Poppy Andrews

As a prospective university student, you have many academic and pastoral aspects to consider when choosing a University. But in my experience, the environment in which you will study and the things you can get involved with in and around a university are just as important as the prestige of the university itself. There are plenty of career-benefiting schemes and competitions available at the University of Birmingham, including the Global Challenge Award, which art history student Emily Woolley won in 2012 and wrote about here). There are also volunteering and internship opportunities at the Barber Institute and the Research and Cultural Collections (which you can also read about on this blog here, here and here). But, only a 5 minute train journey away from the University of Birmingham campus is a vibrant city that also has much to offer a student looking for work experience in the arts sector. So it may also interest you to read about some of the CV-enhancing opportunities that are available with institutions in the city.

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA):

The RBSA is an artist-led charity that supports local artists and society members through exhibitions and educational workshops. Located in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter, the society has close links with the University of Birmingham.

RBSA Gallery in the Jewellry Quarter

RBSA Gallery in the Jewellery Quarter

There couldn’t be a more exciting time to start at the RBSA, as the society celebrates its 200 year anniversary of the first exhibition staged by the Birmingham Academy of Arts, the forerunner of the RBSA. At the end of 2013, a celebratory exhibition entitled ‘Our Collection, Our Archive and You‘ was curated by 3rd year Art History student Hang Nguyen and Art History graduate Chloë Lund.

The society also enrols University of Birmingham students onto its Young Curators Project, giving students the opportunity to gain valuable curatorial experience in a professional gallery. Several of my fellow art history students have also worked with the RBSA and you can read a bit about the kinds of things that they got up to curating The Art of Clay and the Glisten exhibitions on this blog.

I have been a volunteer at the RBSA since 2011, working as an Undergraduate Archive Assistant. My role is to respond to the many archive enquiries that the RBSA receives each week, requesting research on various artists. Both the general public and academics request enquiries. At the RBSA, you can gain valuable administration experience, whilst being given the relevant training in MODES (a database used by many archives around the country), writing Wikipedia articles and public speaking.

The Ikon Gallery

The Ikon Gallery is Birmingham’s internationally-acclaimed contemporary gallery, situated in Brindleyplace, off Broad Street. The Ikon recruits University of Birmingham students as Student Ambassadors, responsible for spreading the word and encouraging fellow students to visit the gallery. As well as gaining valuable promotional experience, you are also given the responsibility of taking student tour groups around the exhibitions – a great opportunity in an exciting and vibrant modern gallery! The gallery also recruits Student Ambassadors from BCU, so it’s a great opportunity to make new friends outside of the university.

The Ikon Gallery

The Ikon Gallery

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG)

Look out for any working opportunities at the prestigious BMAG. From month-long, and longer, internships to work experience weeks, you are sure to enjoy your experience at this busy gallery. Work can range from invigilating exhibitions to being on restoration teams to working with the curatorial department, which MA art history student Lauren Dudley got to do as part of the Cultural Intern scheme (you can read about that here). I was part of the team that invigilated the Revealed: Government Art Collection in November 2012, where works of art where brought together from worldwide UK embassies and political buildings, including the Houses of Parliament and 10 Downing Street.

The Galleries of BMAG

The Galleries of BMAG

Eastside Projects

‘We do not make art for the public. We are the public that makes art.‘

Culturally diverse, there is a lot going on in Digbeth, Birmingham’s answer to London’s East End. Eastside Projects is an artist run gallery space that exhibits experimental contemporary art. There are student placements and volunteer work to be found here, including experience in production, distribution and operation. This is a chance for you to gain gallery and business experience in an exciting area of Birmingham. Upcoming exhibitions include a ‘World Tour’ retrospective of Scottish artist Bill Drummond who will be visiting and living in twelve cities between 2014 and 2025…and it all starts and ends in Birmingham!

Bill Drummond, forthcoming at Eastside March-June 2014

Bill Drummond, forthcoming at Eastside March-June 2014

So if you want to get involved in the curating, marketing, and archives of the art world from the very beginning of your degree, Birmingham is a great place to do it!


Making Culture: New Ways of Reading Things – a review of a new University-wide module reviewed by Chloë Lund

In my final year (2012-13), I was amongst eleven University of Birmingham students who enrolled on a pilot MOMD entitled Making Culture: New Ways of Reading Things. The course encouraged students to critically engage with the material world by considering how objects make and reflect culture.

This may sound like pretty familiar territory for the History of Art student, but it demonstrated that art historical methodologies actually occupy a small niche on a broad spectrum of disciplines that ‘read’ cultural objects. Making Culture: New Ways of Reading Things is notable for being Birmingham’s first truly interdisciplinary module. Each week, sessions were delivered by a different University department, including the Research and Cultural Collections Study Centre, Lapworth Museum, the Centre for West African Studies, the Medical School, the Barber Institute, the Learning Hub, Cadbury Research Library, and Winterbourne Gardens.

The content of the classes were therefore exceptionally diverse. We had a go at some of the tasks involved in the professional roles of our session leaders, such as writing museum labels and condition reports for objects, considering an application for invasive research on a museum specimen, curating a display of objects from Special Collections, making a wax model for casting, and planning an activity to engage a target group with a work of art. We were also treated to a number of behind-the-scenes style tours and demonstrations, including watching a rock being sliced open to reveal a splendid fossil in the Geology Department, and prototype parts for an airplane being cast in the Metallurgy Department’s foundry. Sessions frequently incorporated class discussions, which were especially interesting because the group was comprised of students from many different cultural and academic backgrounds.

MOMD Jan 31 023

Although academic theory did inform our reading and lectures, the course was unusual in that it didn’t focus on the need for an in-depth understanding of an academic field. Rather, it seemed to be about developing a broad awareness of the use and interpretation of objects. During a review session, many members of the group agreed that the module had given them the skills and confidence to assess even objects that they had no prior knowledge of.

MOMD 21st Feb 048

The assessment of the module allowed us to demonstrate this. Each student was randomly allocated an object from the University’s Collections and asked to produce a number of readings of that object from different perspectives. My own assignment considered a work that I, like most students of the University, was already familiar with: Eduardo Paolozzi’s colossal sculpture Faraday, which is located on campus near the train station. I decided to refrain from an all too obvious art historical reading. Instead, I considered the work as a commodity; assessed how digital media could enhance public engagement with the sculpture; and evaluated the way that the work is interpreted within the context of the University Collections.


We also produced a reflective learning journal upon completing the course. The prospect of being assessed on a piece of work based almost entirely on my own, highly personal reflections was one that I initially found daunting. However, the assignment proved to be a really valuable conclusion to the course. I found that observing the themes and connections between the diverse sessions revealed a number of things that I had not necessarily been taught, but had learned as a result of the course.

As well as improving my understanding of the use and interpretation of objects of culture, I would say that taking Making Culture: New Ways of Reading Things actually served to enrich my University experience. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the University beyond my own department, and presented the privileged chance to explore its rich collections.

Making Cultures is now available as an MOMD (Module Outside the Main Discipline) for second year students and you can read more about it here.

Emily Martin reviews the RA’s recent ‘Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris’ exhibition

Daumier, Ecce Homo c.1848-52, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Daumier, Ecce Homo c.1848-52, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

In need of a change of scene from the busy streets of post-Christmas sale shopping, I beat a hasty retreat to the calm and welcoming rooms of the Royal Academy in London. Their exhibition, which has recently closed, on Honoré Daumier, Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris, caught my eye and intrigued (I don’t know anything about 19th century satirical art) I decided to have a look. This exhibition, it turned out, is something of a momentous occasion, as it is the first Daumier exhibition to have been staged in London in fifty years. The collection on display is an incredibly extensive one, beginning with the sketches and mini busts he made for Charles Philipon’s magazine La Caricature and continuing chronologically through his life, and ending with his retreat into his own secluded world with the paintings of an artist looking at his own work as if reflecting on life.

The exhibition is organized into clear and structured rooms, making the artwork visible and accessible to a large number of people eagerly, albeit very Britishly, standing and musing over Daumier’s pictures. There were a few works of art that stood out for me and which I remember very clearly. First was the large and impressive painting Ecce Homo c.1848-52, which represents Daumier’s view on the 1848 French revolution. The painting depicts Jesus Christ, the crown of thorns around his head, his hands and neck in chains, standing before a condemning crowd during his judgment by Pontius Pilot. Painted in broad, rapid strokes, the forms only roughly defined by black outlines, as well as the toned down colour palette all combine to create an effective sense of angry, jostling crowds who, on a hot day, besiege a convicted man. As Daumier was not religious his message can be seen as a political one, one which recalls the protests and easy manipulation of crowds during an uprising. Above all I get the feeling, by looking at this painting, that if I just step a little closer I will be swept up, peering round the child lifted high in the foreground, and thrown into the crowd; churning, twisting and milling below the platform on which Christ is displayed.

That wasn’t the only time during this exhibition that I felt part of Daumier’s art, as an active participant in it. As Daumier’s interest in the new art of photography grew, he emulated images in his own medium and style. However, unlike the art of photography, in which the viewer remains, more often than not, distant and separated from the image, Daumier’s art draws his audience in; the figures are so close to the picture plane that it is hard at times not to imagine that you are part a part of the composition. In the gallery, the photograph Organ-grinder c.1853 by Charles Nègre, Daumier’s neighbour, seemingly inspired the French artist to create his own version of the work. These two images have been hung next to each other in an attempt to encourage the understanding that artists felt a certain affinity with such musicians during the late 19th century, as both métiers were reliant on finding an audience in the troubled times of an unsettled France in order to make their living. Daumier, it would seem, finds images that no one else would think of as being art. Such as Man on a Rope c.1858-60, the scraped surface of which relays so much more than solely technique.

Daumier, Man on a Rope c.1858-60, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada

Daumier, Man on a Rope c.1858-60, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada

Daumier, The Print Collector c.1860, oil on canvas, Museum of Art Philadelphia

Daumier, The Print Collector c.1860, oil on canvas, Museum of Art Philadelphia

One room in the exhibition particularly caught my attention. The works displayed here focused on the theme of relationships between artworks and viewers, a topic that personally interests me greatly, and Daumier is certainly an artist whose art positively forces all observers to actively look at it. The Print Collector c.1860 embodies this act of looking as curator Catherine Lampert described: “…there’s nothing like that slow, silent scrutiny of someone looking at a work of art and you have that sense, that image of looking…and communing and identifying with a work of art.” The man, bent over his in depth study of prints invites the onlookers in the gallery to join him in perusing the art.

Continuing around the gallery towards the last works of art it becomes more and more evident that ultimately, as Lampert says, “artists make art for the love of working”. The satirical portraits gave way to artworks created towards the end of Daumier’s life that appear more self-reflective and more melancholy. The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, a prime example, portrays the three ages of man in a dreary and ill-lit train, the effect created is not so much a challenge to the social class system but a sad acceptance instead. I found myself thinking that this exhibition is not so much about identifying with a work of art but was far more about actively engaging with one, and experiencing a little taster of life in revolutionary Paris.

The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although the exhibition has since closed, you can find loads more out about it, about Daumier and Daumier’s art here.

Check out the Barber Association’s Spring Programme!


To book your place on any of these events or to join the Barber Association please contact:

Wednesday 22 January – Discover the Research and Cultural Collections 2-3.30pm

An afternoon at University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections Discover the diverse and surprising collections held within Research and Cultural Collections including decorative arts, science instruments and objects exploring the University’s own heritage. You will also have the opportunity to take part in an object handling workshop with RCC staff exploring how to work with, interpret and curate objects.

8 places available Booking essential. Barber Association members only.

(Meet at Research and Cultural Collections, 32 Pritchatts Road)

Wednesday 29 January – ‘Refacing the coinage’ 1 – 3pm followed by free tea and cake

Drawing workshop with professional artist Tom Jones Join professional artist Tom Jones for a drawing workshop exploring the fascinating symbols, inscriptions and iconography found on Islamic and Byzantine coins in the Barber collection. Get up close to the coins, study them through drawing and use this visual vocabulary to create visual and verbal graphics that represent your own face, character and identity. No prior drawing skills or knowledge of coins necessary!

7 places available. Booking essential. Barber Association members only.

Wednesday 5 February ‘Behind the scenes at the Cadbury Research Library’, 2 – 3.30pm

A tour through the Cadbury Research Library, home of the University’s Special Collections. You will have the opportunity to see inside the strong rooms where the manuscripts and rare books are stored and visit the conservation studio, including a practical demonstration of Japanese lining techniques by the paper conservator. The tour will include a viewing and handling session of some of the highlights from the collections as well as an introduction to the current exhibition: Art and Anatomy curated by Professor Alice Roberts.

15 places available. Booking essential. Barber Association members only.

(Meet at the Muirhead foyer exhibition cases at 2pm)

Wednesday 26 February – Contemporary Art lunchtime lecture followed by a free printmaking workshop 1.10 – 2pm

Lunchtime Lecture – ‘The who, what, why and where of contemporary art’

Join independent curator and writer Anneka French who will be discussing the  ‘ins and outs ’ of contemporary art, inspired by our New Art West Midlands exhibition. Free, just turn up.

Free printmaking workshop – 2 – 4.30pm Come along for a taster session in drypoint, a form of printmaking involving scratching a design into a copper plate. See some fabulous examples of drypoint in the Barber’s collection, including Egon Schiele’s Crouching Woman, watch a demonstration of the process, then have a go at making your own drypoint print!

Schiele drypoint

12 places available. Booking essential. Barber Association members only.

March – date tbc – A visit to the award-winning art gallery Compton Verney which has an amazing collection of Baroque art from Naples, sculptures and paintings from the Northern Renaissance and British portraits, amongst other things!

Compton Verney in Warwickshire

Compton Verney in Warwickshire

Wednesday 5 March – Contemporary Art Study Afternoon 1.30 – 4.30pm

Includes free tea and biscuits! Explore new art at the Barber… inspired by our New Art West Midlands exhibition, contemporary art is the focus of this study afternoon of lectures and discussion. Meet the New Art West Midlands exhibition curators and exhibiting artists to find out more about their work and practice in their own words. Discussions will also consider the challenges and opportunities facing new artists emerging today and explore what’s exciting in the regional art scene right now. Find out more about the exhibition at:

Wednesday 19 March ‘Art History Speed Workshop #3: Life and Death’ 2 – 3pm followed by free tea and cake for BA members!

Expand your knowledge of art through five key paintings with the theme of Life and Death. A bit like speed dating, you’ll spend a few minutes up close and personal with a picture, with our very own undergraduate and postgraduate history of art students, before moving on to the next one. Unlike speed dating, you might find you don’t want to run a mile at the end, but instead linger a bit longer in the gallery and enjoy free tea and cake with fellow Barber Association members!

Speed Dating Marie Speed Dating Jamie

This could be you..! Would you like to work with a postgraduate student to develop and deliver a Speed Art talk for this event? If so, contact Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange,

FREE, please book your place by emailing

First year student Callum Davidson on Speed Dating: Round 2!

Speed Workshop

L – R: Oliver, Hannah, Jamie, Imogen, Dr. Liz L’Estrange, Dr. Fran Berry, Marie and Carly (who was usher this time around)

On the 4th of December I went along to the Barber Institute’s second speed workshop run by the Art History department at the University of Birmingham. After the success of the first speed workshop earlier this year, this workshop was just as interesting, enjoyable and enlightening as the first, if not more.

If you’re unsure what the speed workshops are all about then imagine speed-dating but with paintings instead of people. You get 10 minutes with a post-graduate student and a work of art from the Barber Institute’s collection of their choice, and the post-grad attempts to educate you about that artwork as fully as they can in just 10 minutes. When the 10 minutes are up, you’re ushered on to the next post-grad/picture, and so on until you’ve done the full circuit of 5. Each of the presenters had their own method of presenting their chosen work and each did a very good job of it!

Speed Dating Oli

I was first introduced to the exquisite and wonderfully intricate miniature showing the Flight into Egypt by the Boucicaut Master, dated to between 1404 and 1415. This fascinating little work was presented by Oliver but when we first walked into the study room where the miniature was set-up in a little alcove, we weren’t sure what we were meant to be looking at until Oliver pointed it out to us. It’s tiny! But once you look at this work more closely you are really able to appreciate everything about it. Oliver he told us as much as he could about the miniature, which shows the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s plans to massacre all baby boys. It’s amazing that Oliver was still explaining things and answering our questions about such a tiny work of art when the ten minutes was up.  The sheet was taken from an early fifteenth-century Book of Hours (a prayer book for the laity) and, like many other books of its kind from the period, it was pulled apart page-by-page and sold at auction to the highest bidder. Although it is, in some ways, a terrible shame that such a fine work of art should be almost desecrated, it does mean that we are able to enjoy this fantastic miniature in the Barber Institute. When looking at this page up-close it’s clear that a tremendous amount of skill went into creating the miniature, which (with help from its careful custodians at the Barber of course!) has enabled it to survive in pretty good nick despite being some 600 years old!

Speed Dating Jamie

We were then ushered on to our next “date”: Cosimo Rosselli’s Adoration of the Magi from around 1484 which was presented by Jamie. This picture could not have been more different to the tiny one we had just left behind. Once an altarpiece, probably inside a Florentine church, Rosselli’s Adoration is pretty large (monumental, even, in comparison to the Flight into Egypt miniature) and it dominates the bay in which it hangs. Jamie really engaged his audience and challenged us to think about what we were viewing, by conducting a Q&A session of sorts after giving us a brief overview of what we were looking at. We discussed the subject of the altarpiece, the three Kings adoring the infant Christ, and we also tried to figure out who the other characters present are (requiring us to summon all our knowledge of saints’ attributes that we’ve gained so far on our degrees…) and why they are there, coming up with the theory that certain saints are shown because they were particularly relevant to the church for which the altarpiece was made and/or its patron(s). Jamie also pointed out to us that in the far distance you can just make out an angel (“. . . it’s the thing that looks a bit like a squashed fly”, he says), who is announcing the birth of Christ birth to farmers on a hill. Thus although the altarpiece shows the adoring Magi, Rosselli cleverly managed to allude to the associated story of the adoring shepherds as well. 

Speed Dating Imogen

Then, into the next gallery we went to join Imogen with the Still Life with a Nautilus Cup by Jan Davidsz de Heem from 1632. This still life is full of all of the symbolism and hidden meanings that you would expect from a 17th-century Dutch still life and we debated the various meanings of most of the main objects in the paintings and even some of the smaller objects, like the lemon rind and walnuts. We discussed the idea of vanitas and earthly-wealth that would not accompany you to heaven (or hell if you’re unlucky) and how this was represented by the worn appearance of the objects and how they are all in disarray. Finally we were divided when debating whether there is a large dent in the metal vase at the centre of the composition, or whether this was a reflection of the plate in the shiny surface and what the potential significance of this might be (…though I think it is a dent).

Speed Dating Marie

10 minutes up and we were whisked on again into the next gallery to see Etienne Aubry’s Paternal Love from 1775 presented to us by Marie. Marie made us think about the characters in the painting and their relationships to one another in depth, and by doing so demonstrated how Aubry’s painting tells a story that can be interpreted in many ways. We focused mainly on the middle-aged man who seems to have just arrived in the room. We discussed who he may be and his social status, and considered how this would affect his relationship to the other figures seen in the picture. This character is greeting one child, yet neglecting two others, and we also observed that the mother figure has rolled up sleeves, which may indicate that she is from a working class background; this is in contrast to the man’s finery which suggestive of high social status. In turn, these observations allowed us to speculate about what the story behind the picture is. Perhaps the child the man is greeting is his illegitimate child? If so, is there a moral significance here? Perhaps these kinds of issues about families, fidelity and filial piety had a particular resonance in France during the second half of the 1700s.

Speed Dating Hannah

Finally we moved again and came to a stop in front of Pierre Bonnard’s Doll’s Dinner Party from around 1903, presented by Hannah. We were first told that Bonnard liked to paint things that were familiar to him and this is an important thing to keep in mind when discussing his paintings, which are often marked by a sense of the voyeuristic. We looked at the way that the door and the mother – Bonnard’s sister – framed the children and how the hazy light and the darkness which his sister almost melts into gives the idea of a snapshot in time, a flickering memory of the event captured in a sketch, painted later in a studio.

When our final 10 minutes were up the speed workshop came to an end and I can honestly say that it was 50 minutes well spent. I had been in the group which was lucky enough to get a chronological journey through the gallery and I think I speak for everyone when I say that each of the paintings and the students who presented them were fantastic. Personally I think that the very first work I saw, the miniature by the Boucicaut Master was the most interesting as it had a real sense of history about it which I thoroughly enjoyed. The afternoon was then capped off by mince pies and wine downstairs in the Barber, where we continued to chat about the paintings and got to ask all the questions we had run out of time for earlier. This speed workshop was in my opinion an overwhelming success and if you don’t believe me come to the next one! There’s also a short video of the workshop on YouTube here

There will be another speed workshop in March as part of the UoB Arts and Science Festival, with the theme ‘Life and Death’.

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