Category Archives: Graduation

Working at White Cube: Graduate Hang Nguyen on her recent internship

Since graduating from the Department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies at The University of Birmingham, I thought life could only get easier with a degree under my belt. I started the summer as an optimistic graduate, thinking “Yeah, I’ve got this” for every job/internship/work experience placement that I applied for. This feeling of optimism lasted about two weeks. I made out over thirty applications but only heard back from one, at the White Cube Gallery.

I applied to the White Cube through their website, after visiting their Bermondsey gallery in the summer and having been impressed with what I saw. I sent a long cover letter detailing everything I knew about contemporary art, thanks, in no small part, to the BA I’d just finished at Birmingham, in the hope that my application would stand out. Luckily, it paid off!! I was invited to interview with the Head of Archives who decided that I was a good enough candidate to be her intern and assistant. Thus began my journey as an Archive Editorial Intern for White Cube Gallery.

On my first day at White Cube, I was given a tour of the gallery. The gallery is a refurbished 1970’s warehouse and the space is amazing. There are three major exhibition spaces as well as an archive space, private viewing rooms, office space, a warehouse, and auditorium and a bookshop. The warehouse is one of the best spaces: the gigantic space houses loads of works of art and I was lucky enough to see pieces by the likes of Marc Quinn, Eddie Peake and Jac Lierner, which were being photographed and stored.

In my role as Archive Editorial Intern, I was expected to manage the White Cube’s archive. The gallery holds a comprehensive archive with material dating from Jay Jopling’s first charity auction. Every single artist represented by White Cube has archive material, which ranges from press articles, letters and other ephemera (I found an artist’s paint palette during one of my trawls through the boxes). As an intern, I was expected to maintain this archive by requesting material from exhibitions that the artists in question were involved in, and organise them properly in hard and digital formats. This entailed corresponding with international and national galleries and museums to acquire this material.

A view of the archive room. The wall shows the sign from the first gallery space and all the invites for the exhibitions there which were self-portraits of the artists

A view of the archive room. The wall shows the sign from the first gallery space and all the invites for the exhibitions there which were self-portraits of the artists

In the second year of my BA degree I did a module called ‘Inside the Gallery’, and the module played a formative role in my decision to pursue a career in the professional art world. After curating a hypothetical exhibition and working on the interpretation material for the exhibition, which is the main output of the Inside the Gallery module, I decided that working in a gallery was exactly what I wanted to do. What’s more, the knowledge and experience I gained from the module was a considerable help during my internship, because I was already aware of the ways in which galleries operate, especially when it comes to marketing, publishing and the press. It also helped me during my exhibition material requests as I felt comfortable taking the responsibility of corresponding directly with other art institutions and understood my responsibility in maintaining the White Cube archive.

One of the projects I was given during my internship was to curate an exhibition on Tracey Emin, based on archival material that the White Cube possesses and features writings by Emin. This exhibition had to be visually powerful as well as representative of the White Cube’s holdings of Emin’s material. The focus was to be on Emin’s solo exhibitions and notable projects, such as her column for The Times Magazine and her contribution to the Olympics. The material I had at my disposal, the contents of the archive, includes hand-written letters to Jay Jopling as well as postcards sent by Emin from her holidays to the staff at the London gallery. There is, in short, a wealth of material in the archive, which is regularly used by the gallery as promotional objects or research material.

Image from a Tracey Emin event where she spoke about her inspiration for her exhibition

Image from a Tracey Emin event where she spoke about her inspiration for her exhibition

My internship lasted several exhibitions. The Gallery mounted shows on David Hammons, Tracey Emin, Etel Adnan and Liza Lou and Senga Nengudi, all of which I was able to contribute directly towards. Everything I did had a purpose for the archive. As an intern, I didn’t think I would get so much responsibility working in the gallery but I was responsible for the artists’ bibliographies and publications. The internship also allowed me to visit other galleries and join in with the events at White Cube, such as private views, talks and lectures. I had the privilege of attending a private view of Anselm Kiefer’s Royal Academy exhibition which was guided by Tim Marlow.

My experience at the Barber Institute, where I regularly volunteered during my degree and where the Art History department is based, the RBSA, where I worked during my degree, and the White Cube has demonstrated quite clearly that not every gallery works in the same way, and my combined experience has introduced me to a wealth of careers that are possible in the arts sector. The internship also allowed me to develop my understanding of contemporary art and its processes. I did work directly for artists studios, like Jake and Dinos Chapman and Mona Hatoum, which has given me a valuable insight into the way artists mediate between dealers and their consumers.

Christies

From my experience, I would definitely advise sending out loads of CVs because you never know what you might get. During my time at White Cube, I was also offered work experience with Christie’s House Sales department. A placement I applied for in August, I was offered a chance to work there in November for two weeks. Things like that can happen – you get nothing and then suddenly two things come at once! The past year after graduation has been incredibly valuable for my own personal development and I think I finally have an idea of what I actually want to do. My final piece of advice to all would-be graduates is not to worry about securing a job straight away, particularly in the arts sector, gaining the professional experience through voluntary or unpaid work is just as important as the knowledge gained from the degree…so I guess…just go for it!

Hang Nguyen

 

Funding for Work Experience 

The Department is pleased to announce the Matt Carey-Williams and Danny Roark Awards, a generous donation funded by one of our alumni that will allow undergraduate students to apply for bursaries of c. £300-500 to enable them to undertake internships, work experience and placements.

The University of Birmingham UK Professional Work Experience scheme also offers financial support for undergraduates (except final years) to undertake work experience in the UK in the summer vacation. Find out more here. The deadline for applications is 29 March. Last year, History of Art student Olivia Weightman received funding to undertake work experience at Christie’s. Read about her experience here.

The Association of Art Historians (AAH) also runs an Internship Award. There are two awards of up to £2,000 each towards placement-related expenses such as accommodation, travel and food. The Internship Award supports both full-time and part-time placements/ internships. The deadline is 1 April.

Mortar boards, pins, heels, wine, prizes and speeches: it’s Graduation 2014!

It’s that time of year again when campus is buzzing with excited (and slightly nervous) students, proud parents, and lecturers dressed as you’ve never seen them before! Graduation is a time to celebrate all our History of Art students have achieved during their time at Birmingham, not just on their degree programme but also as members of our department, the Barber Institute, UoB and the city itself. As a department we are pleased to be able to give out two prizes each year – the Sam Beighton Prize for the best dissertation, and the Emily Rastall Prize for the best overall contribution to the department. Competition is always stiff and there are more worthy candidates than there are prizes: every year, many of our students give generously of their time and energy in volunteering for various events, helping to run open days, applicant visit days, and workshops, and offering peer support. The department really appreciates this because it helps to make the department what it is – friendly, fun, and a great place to study.

Here we’ve put together a selection of photos from the ceremony on July 11th when Single and some Joint Honours History of Art Students graduated. You can read about about our prize winners and also see David, one of the department’s founding members, being given the by-now traditional ‘lift off’!

Dr Richard Clay with Tayler, Alice and Olivia at our pre-gown reception

Dr Richard Clay with Tayler, Alice and Olivia at our pre-gown reception

 

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Senior lecturer David Hemsoll and Dr Fran Berry at speech time

 

Students and parents at speech time

Students and parents at speech time

 

This year, the Emily Rastall prize, awarded in memory of a student who sadly passed away just after her finals in 2012, was shared by French and History of Art student Holly Wain and History of Art student Caroline Hetherington for their overall contribution to the department.

On receiving the prize, Caroline said: ‘Receiving the Emily Rastall prize was a little surprising (and embarrassing!), but I was very pleased to get it. Being recognised for contributing to the department made me think back over the three years of my course and remember the exciting things I was able to accomplish. It definitely reminded me that there was a lot more to my degree than the final mark.’

How did she feel at graduation? ‘Graduation was a lovely opportunity for all of us to be excited and proud after all the nerves of results day, although for me the best part of the day was my parents turning up about two minutes before we went on stage to receive our degrees.’

Is there anything she’ll miss now she’s graduated? ‘I will miss actually studying art history the most, as especially in final year I have loved the amount of research and interesting conversations that have taught me so much more about the subject. Alongside this, writing a dissertation about a previously unstudied sculpture probably gave me the most satisfaction.’ But, Caroline’s not going very far: ‘I am not leaving the University yet – I’m now a graduate trainee in Professional Services, working on different placements over the next year. I don’t know where I’ll go after that, but I’m pretty sure I’m not done studying yet.’

 

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Holly (left) and Caroline standing by the tree planted in Emily’s memory in the Barber grounds

 

Holly said, ‘I feel very honoured to be receiving the Emily Rastall Prize as it means the department can continue to celebrate the commitment and enthusiasm Emily had for Art History at the Barber. It also gave me the chance to reflect on my past four years in the History of Art department and how much I enjoyed contributing to projects like the Golovine Blog.’

How was graduation for her? ‘My graduation day was fantastic because I could share all the relief and happiness with my family and friends. My favourite moment was walking out of the Great Hall after the ceremony and feeling proud and excited for the future!’

What is her favourite memory of her degree? ‘My best memory of studying art history at the Barber is working with my tutor Liz for my dissertation. I loved researching using primary sources in archives because I felt like I could genuinely contribute something new and different. I enjoyed it so much that I am coming back to the Barber in September to do a research masters in History of Art.’

 

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Cheers! Drs Fran Berry and Camilla Smith on the Barber steps with Caroline, Tayler, olivia, Alice and Nelle

 

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It all happened here! Holly, Hang, Emma and Caroline with Dr Liz L’Estrange on the Barber steps

 

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Relieved that no-one fell up or down the stairs! Claire, Louisa, Connie and Grace after the ceremony

 

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Milling around outside the Barber

 

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Hats off!

 

And now for the most traditional event of the day…

 

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Ready…

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…steady…

 

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…wave, David!

 

And now for something more sensible (well, depends what you make of the lecturers’ outfits):

Outside the Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Outside the Barber Institute of Fine Arts

The Sam Beighton Prize for the best dissertation was this year awarded to Joint Honours History of Art and English student, Sarah Cowie. Here she tells us a bit how she felt receiving the prize about the  dissertation that she wrote.

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Prize-winner Sarah on graduation day

 

How did she feel getting the prize? ‘I am very pleased to have been awarded the Sam Beighton Prize this year, as I know there was much competition! It is a nice recognition of my efforts with the dissertation, and I am extremely grateful to my supervisor for guiding me in the right direction.’

How was graduation? ‘My graduation day was lovely, although as a Joint Honours student I graduated on a different day to some of my  History of Art peers, but Josh and I did still manage to have a photo shoot in front of the Barber though!’

What was her best memory of studying at Birmingham? ‘Aside from the second-year study trip to Rome, I think my best memories are of the Barber. It is such an inspiring environment, with amazing research materials in the library and galleries, and always a great venue for lunch with concert music playing in the background!’

Any plans for the future? ‘My plans for the future are yet to be made – I wasn’t very good at thinking ahead in final year! At the moment I’m considering doing a law conversion in Bristol, after travelling this year.’

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Sarah with fellow JH History of Art and English student Josh

 

What was it like researching and writing a dissertation? ‘In the same way as with any research, my dissertation topic adapted, evolved (and unfortunately considering the word count, expanded!) the more I read around the field of study. What began as an interest in Kurt Schwitters’ association with the German Dadaists gradually became a study of exile and anti-nationalism during the Nazi regime; a subject area that complimented my final year special subject, German Modernisms of the Body.

The dissertation explores national identity and the concept of Heimat in Kurt Schwitters’ (1887-1948) assemblage, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, which was produced in Hanover in 1920 and then reworked by the exiled artist nineteen years later in Oslo. The dramatically different cultural climates of these two completion dates – which bridge together post-World War One Germany and pre-World War Two Europe – have invited interpretations of the work that place special emphasis on Schwitters’ increasingly diminished sense of German national identity under the Nazi Regime. However, considering the irreparable damage left following Germany’s defeat in 1918 and the anti-nationalist sentiments outlined in the artist’s essay ‘Nationalitätsgefühl’ (National Sentiment) from 1924, the current study questions the extent to which Schwitters had a fixed sense of national identity, or any kind of investment in the Volksgemeinschaft even during these earlier years.

 

Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920/1939. Oil, paper, cardboard, wood, fabric, and ceramic on board (97 x 69 x 11 cm) London, Tate Collection.

Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920/1939. Oil, paper, cardboard, wood, fabric, and ceramic on board (97 x 69 x 11 cm) London, Tate Collection.

 

In challenging the reading of Spatial Growths as evidence of German or Norwegian national identity, the central tenet of the dissertation explores how Schwitters’ sustained use of found materials (themselves fragments of a disordered reality) is symbolic of a wider process of ordering exile. Indeed, the concept of Merz – a label which encompasses Schwitters’ innovative creative practices and a name which he adopted for himself in the 1920s – sheds light on the artist’s understanding of a transnational Heimat; signalling Schwitters’ desire for a more flexible identity in the midst of political discourses on national purity. Approached thus, the fusion of two nationalities in Spatial Growths cannot be considered a visual enactment of the artist’s loss of German national identity. Rather, through its palimpsest qualities and the incorporation of domestic materials, it alludes to Schwitters’ prolonged search for a stable Heimat in an unstable existence; contributing to a narrative of homelessness that defined the life of this artist.  

Detail of Schwitters' Spatial Growth

Detail of Schwitters’ Spatial Growth

 

Despite moments of panic when I thought I might not be able to actually view the work (it was touring Germany for much of the year), writing the dissertation came to be as rewarding as it was challenging. The opportunity to study one work of art in such depth, whilst drawing on the expertise of my supervisor, Dr Camilla Smith, enabled me to form a research topic that interested me greatly, and that I felt had not been fully explored before.’

 

Well done again to all our graduates this year – you have done us proud! You can see interviews with some of our students on graduation day here.

 

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