Category Archives: Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

One week to go: Flatpack Film Festival

OLIVER STEVENSON (Finalist; Student Ambassador for Flatpack)


At the end of April (19th-24th), Birmingham will be taken over by Flatpack Film Festival for the tenth time. From its beginnings in a Digbeth pub and a Balsall Heath attic, Flatpack has grown and spread, and has become, over the course of a decade, an important week in Birmingham’s cultural calendar. Flatpack 10 will include shorts, documentaries, parties, installations, workshops, exhibitions and new features in venues all over the city from Brummie classics, such as the BMAG and The Electric Cinema to Centrala in Minerva Works and, for the last three days of the festival, in Action Space. “What is Action Space?” I hear you cry, well Action Space is new. An inflatable venue that will be right outside Birmingham Council House. It has to be seen to be believed.

I was lucky enough last year to go to some of the Flatpack 9 events, including a screening of the fantastic Sex & Broadcasting, a documentary about the independent, freeform radio station WFMU run out of Jersey City (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I urge you to look it up). Though my personal highlight was a dinner party, but no usual dinner party. The installation The Dog House at Stryx, in Minerva Works, was what the festival described as ‘a dinner with a difference’. It involved being sat at a table with four others, all of us donning Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, in order to experience a Danish family’s dinner time and all the dramas that ensue during. Before you sat down you had no idea what to expect or which character you’d be–I went with my girlfriend and she ended up being my boyfriend in the film. Each pair of goggles showed the film from a different character’s perspective so you end up discussing what you, and the others, saw. It was a truly unique and unreal experience that aimed to show the future of cinema (though by the time this kind of cinema becomes all the rage I’m hoping that the technology has evolved to make you feel less motion sick).

The Doghouse Installation1

The Dog House at Stryx; Minerva Works

Flatpack is a truly wonderful festival that brings so much to Birmingham. Though The Doghouse isn’t running this year, there is so much more to get involved with and have a try at. Go and see a film at The Electric Cinema (I am thinking of going and seeing the brilliantly named Chuck Norris Vs. Communism); go and see incredible light-paintings by the Japanese artists Tochka at the Ikon (which conveniently would also mean you get to see their Dan Flavin exhibition); explore the demonic presence in Birmingham with local historian Ben Waddington at Satan’s Birmingham; or join in with the lunar lunacy at the free Full Moon Party on the Friday of the festival (it’s free!).

Flatpack is definitely something that is worth getting involved in, and none of the events take place more than half an hour away from campus. The full programme is hereso don’t just take my word for it, go and book something and escape from the harsh realities of exams and deadlines just before the new term starts. It might just change your life.


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 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.

Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ at BMAG

The Vanity of Small Differences opened at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on Feb 13th, amid a flurry of excitement. I went along to the opening to take a look at this intriguing set of tapestries by Grayson Perry, which have been touring the country over the last several months, attracting plenty of attention.

Grayson Perry is a famous artist, probably one of the most famous British artists. In the guise of his flamboyant alter ego, Clare, he is instantly recognisable. I have seen, and enjoyed, some of his work from the 80s and 90s before. This mainly takes the shape of highly decorative ceramics (an example can be seen in BMAG’s permanent collection here) and deals with themes of identity, sexuality, gender, and self-discovery. Since the early 2000s, though, Perry has produced works of sharp and insightful social commentary, and this is where The Vanity of Small Differences fits in. I was less familiar with this aspect of Perry’s work, and keen to explore.

The Vanity of Small Differences (the title references the mainly middle class obsession with individuality) is about people; it is a commentary about and of contemporary Britain. It is also the tale of a journey. This set of six tapestries not only tells the story of their hero’s journey, they also tell the story of Perry’s journey in researching a producing this intriguing artwork.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters

Perry designed thetapestries after working on a (BAFTA nominated) documentary series with Channel 4, All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry (2012). In it, Perry explored how ideas of social class and taste and inextricably linked in British culture. He was fascinated by the choices that people from different backgrounds made in ‘curating their possessions’, and the different messages that this transmits. Perry observed that taste is a particularly British sensitivity, because ideas about taste are linked to a class system that is still evidently very much alive in our culture. Perry knew that he wanted to create art based on the research he did while working on his documentary, and it is possible to hear the voices of the people he visited and interviewed, from the estates of post-industrial Sunderland to the estates of Cotswold gentry, coming through in the text and images.

All six tapestries follow Perry’s hero, Tim Rakewell, who is based on Tom Rakewell, the main character in Hogarth’s series of moral paintings, The Rake’s Progress. Perry cites Hogarth as a major influence on his work, and it is easy to see the parallels between Tim and Tom. Hogarth’s character inherits a fortune from his father, only to fritter it away on a life of extravagance and debauchery. In the end he can be seen naked and crazed in the poor house. Similarly, as you make your way around The Vanity of Small Differences, you watch at Tim rises to fortune and fame, climbing to the precarious precipice of the slippery social ladder. From ginger baby competing with his mother’s mobile in The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, we watch as Tim achieves success and great wealth, eventually transforming into a new money gentleman of leisure. Strolling in the grounds of his Cotswolds mansion, he watches as red dogs, bearing the words ‘tax’, ‘social change’, ‘upkeep’, and ‘fuel bills’, tear down a stag, clad in patched-up tweed, representing the aristocracy, in The Upper Class at Bay. Finally, in #Lamentation, Tim meets a grizzly and inglorious end, lying bloodstained and half-naked in the street, after wrapping his red Ferrari around a lamppost. We see how he could never really escape his roots, as the text proclaims, ‘All he said to me was “Mother”. All that money and he dies in the gutter.’ Following the tapestries around the room at BMAG, I felt genuinely wrapped up in Tim’s story. The larger than life caricatures are undoubtedly amusing, though in a gentle and inoffensive way, and this only adds to the richness of the story, bringing Tim’s tale vividly to life.

Walking into this exhibition space for the first time was like getting a slap round the face; the tapestries are so impressive, so vibrantly coloured, and so intricate. They have irresistible appeal, drawing you in closer in order to pick out every detail, to avoid missing anything. Impressive though they are from a distance, it is only once you get in close that you start to fully appreciate the intertwining strands of narrative and symbolism that run through the set, following the trail scrawly text from one scene to the next as it narrates Tim’s story in different voices. I defy anyone not to find some witty detail in each of the tapestries that provokes grin to spread across their face, from the pug sitting in the left hand corner of The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, to a tomato-faced Jamie Oliver cast as the ‘god of social mobility’, grinning down from the heavens in Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, or the boney-fingered angel/business partner announcing Tim’s new found mega-wealth in The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal.

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal

For me, as a student of Renaissance art, this exhibition was full of amusing moments, as I looked out for the witty references to Renaissance art in each scene. As their intelligently playful names suggest, each tapestry draws on one or more Renaissance or old master paintings, and in each one, Perry plays around with Renaissance themes and iconography. The connection with 14th and 15th century religious art, he says, was used to lend moral weight to Tim’s story, as well as providing recognizable Biblical themes. The Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, for example, mirrors Masaccio’s The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (c. 1425). The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal draws on three different paintings of the Annunciation, by Carlo Crivelli, Matthias Grunewald, and Robert Campin, and the convex mirror on the wall, replicating the scene from another angle, is reminiscent of the one found in the famous Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, a 14th century display of status. #Lamentation was inspired by a painting of the same name by Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1460), but Perry has substituted the skull at the bottom of that picture with a smashed smart phone in this.

Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close

It seems right that this artwork should have taken the form of a set of tapestries. Historically, tapestries acted as decorative objects that displayed the wealth of their owners, owing to the great expense and skill involved in their production. This links in nicely to the main themes of The Vanity of Small Differences, class and taste. Tapestries were also mobile, and were taken with their owners from home to home, like movable instant decoration. Mirroring that, this set, which Perry has gifted to the Arts Council Collection and the British Council, are destined for a nomadic existence. They can, as they have done already, travel from place to place, art venue to art venue. Unlike the historical tapestries of the very wealthy, these will be seen by all sorts of people, the length and breadth of the country.

I found Perry’s tapestries extravagant and enthralling, and the story woven into them thoughtful and entertaining. I also really enjoyed this exhibition, I’ve been three times already, and will go again. Each time I’ve visited the exhibition space has been packed with people of all backgrounds, busily picking out little details. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t yet seen The Vanity of Small Differences to go to BMAG for a peek. I also highly recommend investing in the exhibition catalogue, which is beautiful and full of interesting insights into Perry’s research and the processes behind producing an artwork like this.

The exhibition is totally free, and open daily until 11 May 2014. For more information visit here.


You can read more from me, and find out about a plethora of arts and cultural events across Birmingham, over at Polaroids & Polar Bears.




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New Art West Midlands @ BMAG

Works from the region’s best art graduates were unveiled at the Birmingham Musem and Art Gallery on Thursday 13th February.

A few of us were invited to the private view where we sampled the very best from the West Midland’s  contemporary art  scene, whilst sneaking a cheeky look at the  Grayson Perry tapestries!

IMG_0550[1]            IMG_0551[1] IMG_0554[1]          IMG_0556[1] IMG_0557[1]                 IMG_0558[1] IMG_0559[1]             IMG_0561[1] IMG_0563[1]               IMG_0565[1]   IMG_0567[1]

New Art West Midlands runs until 27th April at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 18th May at BMAG, 15th March at Grand Union and 10th May at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

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!

One to see over Christmas vacation: Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm at Tate Britain. By Lauren Dudley

Art Under Attack!

For the last couple of years I’ve been part of an AHRC-funded Iconoclasms network, led by Leslie Brubaker and Richard Clay (University of Birmingham). Regular Golovine readers might remember my post about our last network meeting at the University of Notre Dame. At the beginning of October 2013 the network met in London to attend the opening of the exhibition Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm at Tate Britain.

In the exhibition it was amazing to finally see the objects that the co-curators Tabitha Barber and Stacy Boldrick had shown us on power-point slides in previous workshops and to walk through considering them in relation to the wider histories and cultures of iconoclasm that we have explored as part of the network.

The exhibition is the first to deal with the subject of British iconoclasm and it has attracted a fair amount of intrigue and discussion. Art Under Attack shows that iconoclasm can take varied forms, that objects and images do not provoke attacks, but that political, social and religious change or periods of unrest have been the catalysts for many acts of destruction, and, importantly, it highlights the strong bond between iconoclasm and creativity in Britain.

Penelope Curtis, the director of Tate Britain, has noted in the foreword to the exhibition catalogue that the earliest work at Tate dates from 1545, defining the collection as post-Reformation. Iconoclasm existed in Britain long before the Reformation, but in terms of Tate’s collection it is a significant moment from which to historicise the subject in Art Under Attack. Naturally, the exhibition begins with the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. At this time, Protestant Reformers feared that people adored religious statues and paintings instead of God, committing the sin of idolatry. Thus, during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I images in churches were removed or damaged. In the exhibition, surviving headless statues from churches, as well as saints scratched out from altar paintings might signify to modern British viewers our ‘lost’ medieval cultural heritage, but which, for post-Reformation England, were reminders of the sinful idolatry of the past.

The Reformation had a radical impact on visual culture in Britain and subsequent image production was informed by this period of destruction. Art Under Attack includes examples of seventeenth-century reformers replacing the visual images that had formerly decorated churches with words from the Bible, while campaigns of destruction escalated. The earlier examples of iconoclasm in the exhibition are presented in terms of religious reform and they were sanctioned by the state, while exhibits relating to attacks from the late seventeenth to twentieth centuries are typified by political upheaval. Representations of political figures have been attacked throughout history, often in response to, or as a precursor of actual political change. The struggle for independence in Ireland led to many equestrian statues of British monarchs being melted down or destroyed. Interestingly, the eighteenth-century statue of George I standing outside the Barber Institute escaped a similar fate when the Dublin-born director Thomas Bodkin bought it in 1937, transforming it from a political symbol in its original setting in Dublin to a work of art in its new home in Birmingham.

The art gallery is a place in which the visitor can revere images. In this way, it seems less surprising that in the early twentieth century Suffragettes attacked paintings in public galleries. Mary Richardson slashed Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus, angered by the idolising of this painting while Emmeline Pankhurst’s suffering was ignored. Responses to the attack in the press further outraged the Suffragettes because the damage done to an inanimate object was mourned, yet women continued to be ostracised. Therefore, further attacks on paintings were carried out. The exhibition shows a photographic reproduction of the slashed Rokeby Venus, while the original painting hangs in the National Gallery as an iconic, intact image with a crowd of visitors in front of it. Other paintings, such as Pre-Raphaelite works that were attacked by Suffragettes and subsequently restored, are included in the exhibition and their presence as unbroken objects is a visual surprise after seeing so many fragments and clearly transformed images. As a result, we can understand the outrage that the attacks would have caused – after all, they are inoffensive, typically beautiful paintings. This is a thought-provoking stage in the exhibition that resonates with recent attacks on works of art, it does not justify such attacks but it allows us to consider the act of iconoclasm as a form of expression, rather than only focusing on the work targeted. In the case of the Suffragettes, this was a desperate time in which their freedom of expression was restricted. Perhaps the difficult question raised is whether works of art are targeted solely to attract publicity. In any case, historically, the media has played a significant role in how we perceive such attacks.

Following on from the section dedicated to the Suffragettes, the focus remains on the public art gallery as a site of iconoclasm by exploring works that have been attacked by individuals who were seemingly offended by what those works represented, or whose outrage was caused by the fact that public money was used to purchase those works. Ironically, in their reviews for Art Under Attack, some art critics show sympathy for the acid attack on Allen Jones’s Chair because they do not like the sculpture, and yet, those same critics disparage Mary Richardson’s attack on Velazquez’s painting. The exhibition questions responses to iconoclasm in public galleries, which, regardless of the motive, judge the attack in relation to the supposed value of the object, be it aesthetic, cultural, financial, or otherwise. There is a clear divide in responses to attacks on historical works and those on works by living artists. Therefore, it is not surprising that some critics have responded negatively to the contemporary works in Art Under Attack.

The latter sections of the exhibition are focused on aesthetics, beginning with post-war artistic responses and theories. In the case of the ‘Destruction in Art Symposium’, artists created socially and politically engaged auto-destructive art. These artists were influenced by iconoclasts and they explored the creative force of destruction, which, in turn, has inspired the next generation of artists whose works are shown in the last room of the exhibition. The visitor’s journey through 500 years of British iconoclasm started with destruction in religious sites and ends in the space of the art gallery, which is a contested sphere for image-makers and -breakers. The exhibition draws to a close with Jake and Dinos Chapman’s series One Day You Will No Longer Be Loved – nineteenth-century portraits whose depicted sitters have been altered by the Chapman brothers to appear as decaying, like their actual bodies. The original paintings had been sold off and due to the age of the paintings we can deduce that the sitters have been dead for quite some time, and therefore, were no longer loved as people or paintings. The Chapmans’ iconoclastic approach unsettles many viewers and, I think, within the parameters of the exhibition, their series points to the quasi-sacred value of works of art, therefore, revealing why acts of iconoclasm are so disturbing. Art lovers, particularly art critics and even some art institutions have been troubled by the idea of an exhibition about iconoclasm; perhaps that fear can be compared to the Protestant Reformers who destroyed images to protect religious worship. Contemporary artists and subversive curators are a threat to the established order of idolised aesthetic beauty, so their critics attack them with words.

In my view, the exhibition is brilliant because it challenges the viewer by scrutinising key moments in British history and questioning traditional representations of them, as well as positioning the art gallery within the history of British iconoclasm. Art Under Attack shows that people have always destroyed images and objects, and always will, but it encourages us to think about the discussions that take place afterwards, the myths created and the rationalising of the motives. My opinion is of course biased so I encourage readers to see the exhibition and make up your own mind.

Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm, Tate Britain, London is on until 5th January 2014. And what’s more, if tickets are ordered online between now and the 23rd December, then you can get them at the discounted price of £10 (use promo code christmas2013 on the bookings page).

A fantastic six months as a U0B Cultural Intern at Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, by Lauren Dudley

The University of Birmingham has pioneered a fantastic scheme with local cultural partners, which offers Birmingham graduates the chance to apply for paid internships at partner institutions.  Last summer I was absolutely thrilled to find out that I had been offered the place at Birmingham Museums Trust in the curatorial department of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery (BMAG). I worked closely with Fine Art Curator, Victoria Osborne, who was my mentor.

In the curatorial department my role involved researching the collection by responding to enquiries, facilitating print room visits, assisting with the care of objects by updating the collection management system and helping with exhibition planning. I was lucky enough while I was there to see the opening of the new Birmingham History Galleries as well as the contemporary art exhibition, Metropolis: reflections on the modern city (that recently closed, but you can read a little more about it here). I was excited to be offered the opportunity to work on some of the interpretation for Metropolis and wrote a Gallery Trail that guides visitors round the museum, comparing works in the exhibition with some of the more familiar images from the museum’s collection that relate to the theme of the metropolis.  I’m really proud to have compiled the guide and, importantly, to see visitors reading it!

Re-displaying the 14th-16th century galleries

The main assignment I was entrusted with was the wonderful opportunity to curate the re-display of 14th-16th century art in the permanent exhibition galleries (Galleries 26 & 27). Gallery 26 was due to be refurbished with new lighting and a fresh lick of paint, and my role was to plan the re-hang of the works in this space, to rotate some of the objects on display with those from the picture store or collections centre, and to update the interpretation. There are some important acquisitions in this part of the collection and I wanted to highlight them in a new way. I gave careful consideration to which images would work best next to each other and thought about the stylistic comparisons that could be made in relation to the Renaissance and the Reformation. For example, I decided to bring up from the store The Agony in the Garden by Garofalo, and to hang it next to Bonifazio de Pitati’s Adoration of the Shepherds in Gallery 26. These works which exemplify Italian Catholic imagery, provide a constrast to Cranach’s Lamentation of Christ, which is shown in the same Gallery and which demonstrates the ideals of the Protestant Reformation.

Benvenuto Tisi (called Garofalo), Agony in the Garden

Benvenuto Tisi (called Garofalo), Agony in the Garden

Bonifazio de Pitati, Adoration of the Shepherds

Bonifazio de Pitati, Adoration of the Shepherds

I also wanted to bring some of the small, precious objects from Gallery 27 into a display case in Gallery 26, so that chalices and reliquaries could be seen alongside the altar paintings, therefore creating a better sense of their original display and function in a church. I also chose to display some metalwork by a contemporary artist in the same display case – Adrian Hope’s Reliquary for a Traveller. This beautiful work was inspired by medieval reliquaries such as the 14th-century one I decided to display alongside it.

Adrian Hope, Reliquary for a Traveller (center)

Adrian Hope, Reliquary for a Traveller (center)

The two pictures shown below, like the Garofalo and Bonifazio above, were all once displayed in churches, probably inside private chapels. The first picture shows the Noli Me Tangere triptych by Jan van Scorel closed and being hung by technicians. The inscriptions on the outside wings identify family members of the donor who commissioned and paid for the work and it is they who are also depicted on the wings of the painting when it is opened (the second below picture). Putting all these paintings, reliquaries and other religious objects on display together in one room helps us gain a better sense of the contexts in which all of these various works functioned, both individually and collectively.

Jan van Scorel (closed)

Jan van Scorel, Noli Me Tangere triptych (closed)

Jan van Scorel (open)

Jan van Scorel, Noli Me Tangere triptych (open)

In Gallery 27 I focused my display on two themes: women and craftsmanship. The objects in this gallery all relate to Christian worship and devotion, but by grouping them into these two themes I aimed to show how they could be better understood and appreciated by today’s museum visitor. Curator of Applied Art, Sylvia Crawley, an expert on the Pinto collection (around 6,000 wooden objects collected by Edward Pinto), brought to my attention a 16th-century intarsia panel – an image created using a variety of pieces of wood. This marvellous piece of craftsmanship depicts The Annunciation and therefore fitted perfectly into the display of religious imagery, especially when shown alongside a painting of the Nativity. I was also really excited to be able to show two prints by Albrecht Dürer, whose technical skill for making woodcuts fitted into the theme of craftsmanship. The images that I selected depict the Virgin and Child and St Anthony Outside a City. 

Selecting objects for the section of the display focused on representations of women was fairly straightforward given that they had already been on show in Gallery 27, but they had not specifically been grouped together in this way. I also brought a painting from Gallery 26 into the case that shows a Virgin and Child. The new display emphasises the fact that representations of women in the 14th-16th centuries highlighted Christian virtue through the example of female saints. Two statuettes representing Susannah and the Elders and Eve exemplify the way in which the artist could depict the female nude without causing scandal. Since BMAG has a famous collection of Pre-Raphaelite works, many of which represent virtue or sin through the female muse, I felt that by offering visitors the chance to focus on depictions of women in earlier works in the collection would allow them to consider how representations of femininity have changed (or not) throughout the history of art as they move around the galleries.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at BMAG – I’ve learnt so much and will never forget the fantastic experience that I’ve had there. I would recommend any Birmingham graduates interested in working in the cultural sector to apply for this fantastic scheme. For more information, email and see the Cultural Intern website.

Dates for your Diary this Autumn!

It may be the end of August but things are hotting up already for the autumn term! Here at The Golovine we’ve put together an overview of some of the exciting things being organised in and around the department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies. So, whether you are a prospective student, a new or returning student, an alumnus or just interested in the arts, we are sure you’ll find something here to tempt you! We look forward to seeing you at one or more of these events soon!

It all kicks off with an Open Day on Saturday 14th September that includes departmental talks, accommodation tours, and lots of information about studying at Birmingham. Let’s hope the campus will look like this again!


Come and visit the Art History, Film and Visual Studies stand in the Bramall Building from 9am-4pm.To book a place, visit this link. There’s another one on 26th October too!

Fresher’s week starts on 23rd September – start by grabbing your free copy of The Incredible Human Journey by Professor Alice Roberts, this year’s choice for GRAB, the Great Read at Birmingham 2013!


The book traces the origins of the human race from Africa through our colonisation of the globe. Using scientific methods, from analysis of climate changes to human genetics, whilst also exploring art, culture and society, the book encourages the reader to ask some of the great questions in life: who are we, and how did we get here?

The weekend of 28th September is a bumper one! First, we are running our Taster Day for Year 12 and 13 Students and their teachers from 11-4pm in the Barber Institute. If you are currently deciding whether studying History of Art at University is really for you, come along and give it a try! You’ll be able to get a real feel for what it’s like to study History of Art, through a series of mini lectures, seminars, and gallery sessions on subjects including Botticelli, Damien Hirst, women artists, and cinema and art. You will also have the opportunity to meet current students and staff, find out about careers an Art History degree can lead to, and obtain useful tips for your UCAS application! Lunch is provided but registration is essential.

Already at Brum? Well, the same day you can take part in a writing workshop with Barber writer-in-residence, Jacqui Rowe. Sonic Visions takes place in the Lady Barber Gallery where visual works will be interpreted as music, and you can experiment with mixing the senses in prose and poetry. Tickets are £6 or £4 for concessions and students.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the same evening sees the Barber Mixer event for new and returning students. If you’re (re)joining us in September, make sure that you come along to the Barber at 7pm to meet like-minded arts lovers, course-mates, academics and Barber staff. There will be live music, art activities (including commissioned portraits), drinks, pizza and art society stalls – all for a fiver! Keep an eye out on Facebook about getting your ticket.

Moving into October,the Digbeth Speaks oral histories project launches its exhibition on 3rd. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund Digbeth Speaks has created a time capsule of contemporary Digbeth, an area of inner city Birmingham, during 2013. The project has been devised and led by young members of the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage, Library of Birmingham. Many of the dedicated team of young volunteers comprise postgraduate students and alumni from the University of Birmingham, including our own Carly Hegenbarth!

Digbeth speaks file

A bit later in the month, on the 16th at 7.30pm, world-renowned choir The Sixteen come to the Barber. Their concert will feature some of the best-loved classics of Tudor and Jacobean church music together with madrigals by Tallis, Byrd and Gibbons, alongside pieces by Britten, Tippett and MacMillan including the ‘Five Spirituals’ from A Child of Our Time and the ‘Choral Dances’ from Gloriana.


Birmingham University Singers will feature, alongside The Sixteen, in a performance of Chilcott’s Tallis Canon. For more information see here.

This year, Birmingham is home to the seventh Cine Excess international film conference and festival which brings together leading film scholars and cult film makers. The theme of this year’s conference is European Erotic Cinema: Identity, Desire and Disgust and events are organised in conjunction with the University’s newly-formed B-Film (Birmingham Centre for Film Studies) and the Midlands Arts Centre, which is hosting the event from 15-17 November. Cine-Excess VII considers Europe’s long and controversial relationship with the erotic image, considering the extent to which cult European traditions of desire reveal fascinating issues of nation and regional distinction.

Cine Excess

Wondering what you might do with your History of Art degree? On Wednesday 20th November we are holding our Careers Day (2-5pm) where you’ll have the opportunity to hear from graduates of our department talking about their career paths and current jobs. Speakers will include staff from the Wallace Collection in London, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, and Matt Carey-Williams, director of the White Cube Gallery. More information to follow soon!

The end of November (30th) sees the opening of BMAG’s Photorealism exhibition – the first and largest European retrospective of this highly realistic painting genre. Photorealism begin in America in the late 1960s with artists painting realistic depictions of everyday objects and scenes like cars, highways and diners which, at first glance, appear to be photographs, like this example by Birmingham-born artist John Salt.

John Salt, White Chevy, 1975

John Salt, White Chevy, 1975

The exhibition features work by photorealist artists from the 60s to the present, including John Salt, Chuck Close, and Peter Maier and explores the questions and debates raised by the movement on what makes an authentic image and the ways in which we perceive the world.

Phew…that takes us nearly up until the Christmas holidays, so we’ll stop there while the sun is still shining and the evenings are still long (at least at the time of writing)! But keep an eye on The Golovine and our Facebook page for more updates – there are bound to be some Christmas-related festivities to announce!

George Catlin’s European Adventure: The Gallery Talks!

Here is the third instalment in Joint Honours student Sophie Edwards’ experience of working on the George Catlin exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition is now on in Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery until 13th October 2013!

After working on the planning of the exhibition and then making films about it for the website, the day had finally been set for the next part of our Catlin adventure: the gallery talks! These were scheduled for Thursday 30th May and, as any University student, and indeed lecturer, knows, the Summer Term is by far the busiest. Therefore, it was only after my exams had finished that I suddenly realised that, along with the rest of my group, I would be speaking at one of the major art galleries in London. I thought that I would have been riddled with nerves, but I managed to surprise myself by feeling pure excitement.

When the day came, I and my fellow group members met up with the project leaders Dr Sadiah Qureshi, from the University of Birmingham’s History Department, and gallery staff Lesley Rivett and Esther Collins, in the National Portrait Gallery. They all said they were very excited to hear our talks and that in fact the talks would also be signed for the hard of hearing. This fascinated us all, as neither me, nor any of my group members had ever experienced this before!


Lesley very kindly gave us a tour of the George Catlin exhibition, although our group of five quickly expanded to include everyone else visiting the exhibition, she was that inspiring to listen to! This was so useful in helping us to identify how we were going to deliver our talks, especially with regards to effectively linking in information with works of art. After Lesley had finished the tour and given us some advice on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ on giving gallery talks, (such as not to stand in front of the work of art when you are talking about it!) I looked at my watch and worked out that we had an hour and a half grab some lunch and put together a gallery talk. It was then that I started to feel a little nervous.

As a group we had to organise what we were going to say, how we were going to work this around the gallery layout, how the information would translate to the portraits in the exhibition, and ensure that we were pronouncing the Native American names correctly! As a student of both History and History of Art, this task was one that certainly utilised both aspects of my degree!


At 7pm the signer arrived, to clarify Native American names and go through how the signing process works. At 7.30, we looked around the gallery floor and gave each other a positive nod, as the turnout for the talk was very good. So good, in fact, that moving around the gallery to talk about different portraits became a great challenge! As a bit of a perfectionist, I was almost convinced that because I did not know the talk inside out that my mind would go blank and I would be left with nothing to say. I’m glad to say that I proved myself completely wrong as the talk itself went very well! We discussed different topics such as George Catlin himself, Native American culture and Catlin’s exhibition when it first came to London in 1839, whilst also relating this to the portraits in the exhibition. We all thoroughly enjoyed delivering the talks, presenting them with enthusiasm and confidence as well as working effectively with the signer. The response we got was very positive, with many of the attendees approaching us in order to congratulate us and to remark positively on our enthusiasm for the topics discussed. Some of my group members even said that they felt like a celebrity!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and this is certainly an experience that I will be able to carry with me throughout my life. For this, I just wanted to thank the University of Birmingham, in particular Sadiah, as well as the National Portrait Gallery for making this possible. This research project has given me and my group the confidence to speak to an audience outside of the seminar room: this is a tool that is of great importance, especially with graduation only being a year away! It has also inspired me to pursue gallery work as a possible career path. I know that the rest of my group and I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this research project and would absolutely recommend it to anyone if they get the chance!

Entrance to American Indian Portraits is free. There are lunchtime talks at BMAG starting at 1pm and cost £3 (available on the day).

Wednesday 4th September: Exhibition curator Dr Stephanie Pratt discusses curating George Catlin: American Indian Portraits. She will also explore how Catlin’s images have been thought to construct an idealised view of Native American peoples. The talk will also look at the role of Catlin’s paintings in the recovery of Native Americans’ past histories and cultures.

Thursday 19th September: Dr Robert Lewis, Lecturer in American History from the University of Birmingham, discusses George Catlin and his time in Birmingham with the ‘Indian Gallery’ in the 1840s.

Wednesday 2nd October: Dr Sadiah Qureshi, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Birmingham, explores Catlin’s career as a painter, showman and political campaigner and why his paintings are still important for historians and Native Americans today.

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BMAG’s Gallery 27…some lovely parallels with works held in the Barber

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

Good things come in small packages.  Gallery 27 may be one of our smallest gallery spaces, but the new display of 14th to 16th century European art contains some gems which are worth spending time with.

One half of the room explores the way Christian art has used women to represent extremes of good and evil.  A bronze sculpture shows Eve, who took an apple from the forbidden tree and caused humanity’s expulsion from Paradise.  In contrast, Suzannah was a symbol of virtue because she refused to give in to the advances of two men who interrupted her bath.

The Virgin Mary, the ultimate example of female purity, is depicted with simple realism in Verrochio’s terracotta panel.  This panel was made in the same workshop in which Leonardo da Vinci receiving his training as a young apprentice.

The other half of the room brings together examples of the…

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