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A blog about (art) blogging

MICHAEL CLEGG (History of Art, PhD)

When I started to think about trying to write on art, blogging seemed an obvious way to begin. My early researches, however, taught me a few unpleasant truths: that there was absolutely no chance of getting paid, that shouty prose was the internet’s default house style, and that you probably wouldn’t have an audience anyway.

By a stroke of good luck, at about the same time I was asked if I’d start a blog for the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, where I’d volunteered on and off for a few years. The Gallery has a dedicated – even international – following, so that rather than yelling to no-one I knew I’d have the opportunity to talk in measured tones to an informed audience. With just a copy of ‘WordPress for Dummies’ to fall back on, I agreed.

Clegg 1

At the Fry Art Gallery we like to think of ourselves as quirky but professional; the cottage garden entrance opening out on some serious art. The Gallery building itself was once home to the private collection of a local banking family, from whom it takes its name (they were distant relatives of Roger Fry, and apparently owned one of his oils). Now, however, it houses a collection of work by artists with a national reputation who lived or worked in North West Essex, many around the village of Great Bardfield. Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden are the names which draw in visitors, but there are also pieces by Marianne Straub, Keith Vaughan, Michael Rothenstein, Kenneth Rowntree, John Bellany and many others. A plate by Grayson Perry gets a lot of comment, but the strength of the collection is very much in the mid-twentieth century.

At the Fry Art Gallery we like to think of ourselves as quirky but professional; the cottage garden entrance opening out on some serious art. The Gallery building itself was once home to the private collection of a local banking family, from whom it takes its name (they were distant relatives of Roger Fry, and apparently owned one of his oils). Now, however, it houses a collection of work by artists with a national reputation who lived or worked in North West Essex, many around the village of Great Bardfield. Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden are the names which draw in visitors, but there are also pieces by Marianne Straub, Keith Vaughan, Michael Rothenstein, Kenneth Rowntree, John Bellany and many others. A plate by Grayson Perry gets a lot of comment, but the strength of the collection is very much in the mid-twentieth century.

Two Women in a Garden, Eric Ravilious,

Two Women in a Garden, Eric Ravilious, 1934; Fry Art Gallery

The blog averages about 150 visitors per month, which isn’t massive, but compares well with the audience you would reach through an academic conference. When I launched the site in March 2017 it took a while for numbers to build, but things began to take-off when a feed from the blog was put onto the Gallery’s main website. We now have a pretty slick social media operation too, with new blog posts being advertised by my (volunteer) colleagues who handle the Gallery’s presence on twitter and facebook.

The technical knowledge needed to run a WordPress site is minimal, but whether I get the writing right – its tone and frequency – is another matter. I try to get a new post up at least every six weeks (which is probably not as frequent as would be ideal, but this is in my spare time). I don’t think of the blog primarily as a way of reaching new audiences so much as enhancing the Gallery’s offers to existing visitors and those potential visitors with a definite interest in the art. My imagined reader is someone who already knows that they like the art on show, but will get more out of it with further context, historical information or behind-the-scenes insights from a curator. It’s important to me personally that, whist the tone isn’t academic, the content and any research behind it would stand up to academic scrutiny.

Good images are at the core of any art blog. The Fry has a good library of digitised pictures, but doesn’t have the image rights for all the works it owns, which can make things more complicated than I’d like. Even where the Gallery owns image rights, I tend to use cropped and low resolution photographs on the site, as these are entering the public domain and control is lost.

Despite some initial scepticism, and a lot of effort for only its own reward, I’ve found blogging through a museum site rewarding, and a nice complement to academic writing. It’s helped me make some connections and establish myself at the Gallery: I’ve recently been asked to edit a revised version of the Gallery’s guide Ravilious at the Fry, which will be a whole new set of learning.

The Fry Art Gallery blog can be found here. You can follow it on twitter @FryArtGallery and me @michaeljclegg1

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Bruegel in 2018-19: at the Kunsthistorisches, Vienna, and Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels

JAMIE EDWARDS

Bruegel Babel

Bruegel the Elder, “Large Tower of Babel,” 1563; Kunsthistorisches, Vienna

In September 1569, Pieter Bruegel the Elder died — aged, tragically, just forty or so — and was buried in Notre Dame de la Chapelle in Brussels. To mark the 450th anniversary of this event, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which holds the single largest collection of Bruegel paintings (over a quarter of them), is staging the first ever major monographic exhibition on the artist. Due to open in October this year and running till January 2019, it promises to offer an overview of the artist’s entire painted oeuvre …. More here.

B winter-landscape-with-skaters-and-a-bird-trap-1565

Bruegel, Landscape with Skaters and a Bird Trap, 1565; Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels

2018 is, it turns out, a good year for Bruegel and the Brueghel dynasty. In September there’s going to be a pretty big three-day international conference at the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels. I’ll be speaking, and the Acts are coming out next year as a book. More info., and the programme here.

In Bruges: A Rewarding Encounter with Frank Brangwyn

JON STEVENS, MRES HISTORY OF ART

In the middle of February, I spent three days in Bruges undertaking preliminary research for my dissertation and taking in many of the artistic pleasures of this enigmatic city. On the second day, I met with Laurence Van Kerkhoven, Assistant Curator at the Groenigemuseum. She gave me details of the fin-de-siècle works in their collection and we discussed some of the ideas behind my dissertation. Then she took me around their permanent display of works by Frank Brangwyn, on the first floor of the Arentshuis, a fine eighteenth-century house that forms an annex to the main museum. I had seen the display before but this time Laurence drew my attention to Brangwyn’s various depictions of Bruges and she reflected on the diversity of his practice.

arentshuis

But who was Frank Brangwyn, I hear some of you say? He was born in Bruges in 1867, the son of William Brangwyn, a British architect and designer, who based himself in the city for some years. In 1874, the family returned to London and, around 1882, Frank was taken on by the studio of William Morris. He only spent two years there and, at the young age of 18, he launched his career as an artist, working from the start in a wide range of disciplines.

brangwyn

Brangwyn’s continuing connections with Bruges

Brangwyn always maintained his connections with Bruges and in 1936, towards the end of his career but when he was still highly regarded as an artist, he gifted a substantial body of work to the city of Bruges on the understanding that a museum would be created to display them. The museum remains popular but, beyond Bruges and even in his home country, Brangwyn is largely forgotten, despite his considerable reputation across Europe in the early twentieth century.

I asked Laurence about this. In her view, there are several reasons for the comparative neglect of Brangwyn. Partly, it may be due to the range of his practice, which is very much on show in Bruges. It may also be because his work cannot be pinned down stylistically; it doesn’t fit neatly into any one school or movement. It was also evident from the work on view that, in the 1920s, the quality of his work began to decline as he became increasingly detached from wider developments in the art world.

In Britain, he remained well thought of; he was knighted in 1941 and in 1952, four years before his death, he received the first retrospective of a living artist at the Royal Academy. But this was at a time when the ‘young-bloods’ of the Pop and Op art movements (Hamilton, Hockney, Riley et al.) were beginning to look outwards and in the process they turned their backs on most pre-1945 British art. Hence, after his death, Brangwyn and his work faded into relative obscurity.

The outstanding English artist of the time?  

Yet at the beginning of his career, Brangwyn was perhaps seen as the outstanding English artist of the period and he had success in many different fields. In 1885, when he was only 18, he first exhibited at the Royal Academy. Two years later, his work was shown at the Paris Salon and, in the same year, he became a corresponding member of the Munich Secession. In 1895, he was commissioned by Siegfried Bing to provide murals for his newly-opened gallery in Paris – L’Art Nouveau – which was at the centre of this new movement. Two years later, he was a founding member of perhaps the most famous of the secessionist movements, the Vienna Secession, and, in 1899, he was commissioned to produce stained-glass designs for Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Thus, by the turn of the century, when he was just over 30, Brangwyn’s work was recognised and celebrated in Britain, across Europe and in the USA. In the following decade and a half, he was extraordinarily productive exhibiting widely and representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1905, at the Ghent World Exhibition in 1913 and at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1914.

The display in Bruges provides an excellent overview of his work during this period and later and I thought it might be of interest to highlight some of the pieces that caught my attention as I went round with Laurence.

Brangwyn as an interior designer

The two years Brangwyn spent in the William Morris studio gave him an idea of the importance of the decorative arts and he worked as an interior designer for all of his career. In the gallery, is one of his earliest commissions, a carpet design called ‘The Vine’, which he produced in 1896 for Bing’s, L’Art Nouveau. This was an impressive achievement for a young British artist; at a time when the decorative arts were seen across Europe as being on a par with the fine arts.

Brangwyn carpet

Brangwyn (design), The Vine (carpet);Museum Artenshuis (author’s photograph)

Another example of his work on show is a chair he designed for the British pavilion for the 1905 Venice Biennale. The simple lines of the chair, which formed part of a total scheme of decoration, show how his work was progressing away from Art Nouveau towards Art Deco at the very beginning of this movement.

Brangwyn chair

Chair designed by Brangwyn; Museum Artenshuis (author’s photograph)

Brangwyn as a colourist

In the meantime, Brangwyn was exhibiting his paintings widely. His practice as a painter was greatly influenced by his travels with fellow artists to Turkey, South African and Morocco. Perhaps his most significant companion was Arthur Melville, who he travelled to Spain with in 1892. Melville, who was 12 years older than Frank Brangwyn, was a member of the Glasgow Boys and an inspiration to the later Scottish Colourists. (Co-incidentally, one of Melville’s early works, The Lawn Tennis Party at Marcus, is currently on show upstairs in the Barber in the exhibition The Rhythm of Light: Scottish Colourists from the Fleming Collection).

Arthur-Melville-The-Lawn-Tennis-Party-at-Marcus-1889-Watercolour-pencil-and-bodycolour-on-paper

Melville, The Lawn Tennis Party at Marcus, 1889; Private Collection. (Image: Bridgeman Education.)

By the 1890s, Melville had developed a free style of painting that clearly influenced Brangwyn’s early paintings, which – like Melville’s – are saturated with light and colour and full of human activity and movement. In Bruges, they have several examples of Brangwyn’s work from this period; notably Fishermen at Sea in a Squall of 1908, which exemplifies his fluid and exuberant style.

Brangwyn 'Fishermen at Sea in a Squall' .jpg

Brangwyn, Fishermen at Sea in a Squall, 1908; Museum Artenshuis (author’s photograph)

Brangwyn as a printmaker

Frank Brangwyn was a significant graphic artist and printmaker. His early work was much in Morris’s mould (as for example in a series of bookplates on display in Bruges) but his work, later, became darker and more expressionistic; as in his series of prints of railway stations. La Gare of 1910 shows his effective depiction of atmospheric effects and his expressive use of flowing, tangled lines.

Brangwyn, La Gare

Brangwyn, La Gare, 1910; Museum Artenshuis, Bruges

Brangwyn, like many artists of the time, was influenced by Japanese prints and he took this interest further when, in 1910, he formed a highly successful partnership with a Japanese woodblock artist, Yoshijuro Urushibara. Brangwyn collaborated with Urishibara for the next 30 years; perhaps their most celebrated work is a series of coloured wood block prints for a book of poems on Bruges by the English poet and art historian, Laurence Binyon. The Beguinage, Bruges is a highly evocative image which channels earlier Symbolist views of Bruges (some of which are on view in the main gallery of the Groenigemuseum) and which reinterprets them in a pattern of delicate lines and misty tones with a tell-tale lit window (a typical Symbolist trope).

Brangwyn 'The Beguinage, Bruges' .jpg

Brangwyn, The Beguinage, Bruges; Museum Artenshuis (author’s photograph)

Brangwyn as a social commentator

Brangwyn’s work does not, on the whole, address social issues and concerns. However, the outbreak of the Great War, caused him to consider the impact of the conflict and his position as a British-based artist with connections in Belgium. Brangwyn did not become an official war artist but during the war he produced a large number of prints and images. Some of these tended to be jingoistic (as in his recruitment posters) but others were more reflective. Like many other artists and writers, he became aware of the human cost of the conflict and it should be noted that his colleague, Laurence Binyon, was a celebrated war poet.

Throughout the war and after, Brangwyn produced a series of powerful images highlighting the plight of refugees, starting with the mass displacement of people caused by the surprise and brutal German invasion of Belgium at the beginning of the war. His later Refugees of 1927 seeks to universalise the refugee experience at a time when many artists were seeking to consign the war to the past.

Brangwyn 'Refugees' .jpg

Brangwyn, Refugees, 1927; Museum Artenshuis

Brangwyn and the avant-garde

Laurence added that Frank Brangwyn and his work are in currently being re-evaluated. Her work at the Groeningemuseum has undoubtedly been important in keeping his reputation alive and, recently, several smaller British galleries have had exhibitions of work focusing on specific aspects of his overall practice (as in the William Morris Gallery’s Frank Brangwyn and the Art of Japan, held on the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2017, when I saw more of Brangwyn’s and Urishibara’s collaborative work). And back in 2006, Leeds Museums and Galleries held a broader retrospective of his life and work. This had an excellent accompanying publication with a series of essays on different aspects of his practice, which is in the Barber Fine Art library. Although the exhibition and the publication tends to underplay his Bruges works, which is curious considering it travelled to the Groeningemuseum.

Interest in Frank Brangwyn and in many of his English and Scottish contemporaries is growing (as per the Barber’s Scottish Colourists exhibition). Part of this reflects a wider understanding of the development of the pan-European avant-garde, when Brangwyn’s work came to the fore. The period between 1880 and 1914 was a time of unparalleled cultural dialogue and exchange and artists like Frank Brangwyn are now being re-assessed as significant participants in the avant-garde. Brangwn may not be a major figure but his early work and practice is in many ways emblematic and deserving of greater attention.

Why I like this Module: Victorian Art and the British Empire

LOUISE GREENHILL (second year student)

As part of the second year module ‘Victorian Art and the British Empire,’ taught by Dr Kate Nichols, we all visited the Ikon Gallery in Brindley Place to see their exhibition on Thomas Bock (ran from 6 December 2017 – 11 March 2018) as in Week 9 of the term we would present our research on this subject to small groups of visitors from the Ikon’s Legacy Group for adult learners. From the start the project promised to be interesting and of particular interest to me was the fact that Bock himself was a fellow Brummie!

Thomas Bock was an engraver who was deported to Tasmania, then Van Diemen’s Land, in 1823 where he became a convict artist. The focus of our study was on the detailed watercolour portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginal people that he produced, which are striking in their sympathetic and personal depictions of each individual.

One of the main themes of this module is the idea that studying imperial art should give a voice to the colonial subjects depicted and recognise the two-way exchange between both cultures, and this is what we tried to do in our research of Youth Sitting. There is some evidence, mainly facial features and the records of the group, to suggest that the subject of this portrait was actually a Hawaiian called John/Joseph/Mclain/Mclean who worked as a sailor and travelled from Hawaii to New York to Liverpool where he was arrested and sentenced to deportation to Tasmania, so he turned out to be a very interesting man to research.

 

Youth Sitting

Perhaps the most interesting part of this portrait is the fact that the subject is portrayed completely naked, unlike the portraits of the Aboriginal people who are often wearing intricate, detailed outfits. The oddly flat proportions of the torso and the way in which the head seems superimposed to the body led to the theory that “John” was originally sketched with clothes which were, in a sense, removed in the final version. Further evidence to point to this is a preliminary sketch made by Bock which shows “John” again but he is wearing trousers and in the top right-hand corner of the sketch two figures that are sitting in the same cross-legged pose as our subject, are clearly wearing European style shirts and trousers. His nakedness is intriguing because as someone who had travelled around the world and was technically an English convict he surely would have worn English clothes as shown in the sketch. So why did Bock make this artistic decision? Perhaps he wanted to depict the group as similar, he also put a traditional Aboriginal spear into the portrait. Perhaps Bock himself, as a white European man, did not differentiate between different ethnicities. We even wondered if “John” himself wanted to be shown as similar to the Aboriginal people so that he could make a fresh start in Tasmania after his arrest. These are all just theories and there is no conclusive proof either way but the project raised many important questions about the importance of dress in imperial portraiture, the accuracy of portraits and the conflicting intentions of both artist and sitter. Thinking through all these issues and more besides made ‘Victorian Art and the British Empire’ a very interesting module indeed!!

 

 

 

 

Being Modern: MoMA in Paris exhibition

SAM ROBINSON (second year student)

Situated on the western arc of Paris’s Boulevard Périphérique, perhaps better known as the Périph, the Louis Vuitton Foundation presents something of a welcome respite from the bustle of inner-city Paris. Having spent the best part of the week-long study trip rattling around the Metro in short bursts from Musee D’Orsay to Centre Pompidou, the semi-rural feel of the LVF building felt a bit alien.

Fondation LV

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the route I had opted for would take me on a scenic tour of the Parisian periphery – a mostly wintery scene, that is, made up of desolate woodland and dual-carriageways. Once the leafless canopy began to clear, however, the destination presented itself in the most striking sense. Several glass panels of a grand scale, arced and deflected, are held together by a semi-visible industrial skeleton to resemble the grandest, gleaning origami construction on the Paris skyline.

Home to the recent Being Modern: MoMA in Paris exhibition, the building is the product of architect Frank Gehry’s trademark obsession with warping and visually stimulating curvature (see Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum) and is something quite remarkable to behold. There is a strong sense of statement to Gehry’s architecture, a bold design that stands out both aesthetically and geographically.

The fact that the roof terrace might ordinarily offer exquisite views of the Eiffel Tower, if it weren’t for the quite deliberate placement of a web of hefty iron pillars, suggests that this building aims to stand apart from the traditional tourist image of Paris. This is the Eiffel Tower of the Périph.

An impressive sight, the LVF building nonetheless echoes the corporate excess of those that occupy it. For me, the uneasy cleanliness and air of expense sat at visible odds with the pretty bleak landscape of the Bois de Bologne in winter. Such feeling was probably best represented by the dozens of queueing visitors anxiously scraping the mud off their feet so as to not dirty the pristine white walkway, for fear of reprisal …. It certainly felt the shiny new product of Paris’ highest-end fashion corporation, a showpiece of expensive designer taste – a world distinctly apart from the functionality and industry of the Pompidou or Eiffel Tower.

That said, once inside, it becomes apparent that such an exhibition would most probably not have become a reality without the sheer cost of it all being able to be met. The volume of work on show on loan from the MoMA — over 100 objects — reportedly required no fewer than seventeen trans-Atlantic shipments to get it all to Paris, which, I’m guessing isn’t exactly cheap.

The first floor of the exhibition, which spanned four floors in total, offers a chronological examination of the MoMA’s history. Initially House by the Railroad by Edward Hopper, 1925, cuts a lonely figure – but only momentarily, as attention is immediately wrenched away by the plethora of instantly recognisable icons of twentieth-century modern art that lay beyond it. Should the eye veer too far left while viewing Hopper’s work, for example, the flitting projection of Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie (1928) proves far too intriguing a distraction.

Whether this was merely a personal failing, my own attention deficit, or whether bigger questions are to be asked about the design of this show, there certainly was some sense of chaos to the display. Perhaps this was an inevitable result of trying to present so many objects — many of them very famous — of all different kinds in one space …. Whatever it was, certainly the show was a feast for the eyes, so much so that it often seemed difficult to concentrate on any one object.

Opus 217 by Paul Signac caught the eye, as a work returning from whence it came. It alludes to the great influence that Parisian and European art once held in shaping the future for American modern art, although after the first floor and the founding years of the MoMA, the art becomes noticeably more American in its identity.

The previously overwhelming collection also begins to thin, in that each individual work is allowed more room to breathe and not diminish into the overwhelmed whole. Andy Warhol’s infamous Campbell’s Soup Cans are allowed a vast amount of wall space, as are other iconic works such as Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl. It makes sense, too, of course, that the most iconic works and their makers are afforded the most space and so attention. Working in chronological order, floor by floor, presents a kind of ascent to a climax. Between each floor, there was an increasing, though indiscernible, buzz of anticipation as visitors escalated past the webbed glass sails of the exterior (somewhat in awe) to the very top.

In this sense I think America was very much the point of ‘Being Modern: MoMA in Paris’. There is some sense of an overzealous presentation of a pure American spectacle, as a show of national pride and brute strength via the medium of loaned artworks. Even so, the exhibition would essentially have been doing what it said on the tin – presenting the ‘MoMA in Paris’: the pinnacle institution of American modern art, showing off a tour de force roll call of world-renowned art to the rest of the world.

 

Bayeux Tapestry to return to the UK … 900 (or so) years after it left!

JAMIE EDWARDS

Bayeux

Much speculation this morning about an announcement, due to made tomorrow by Emmanuel Macron, who, it is thought, has agreed to loan the Bayeux Tapestry to the UK. Usually exhibited at the appropriately named Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Normandy, it will be the first time that the tapestry — which isn’t technically a tapestry at all, since it is embroidered (and, interestingly, usually thought that most of the embroidering was undertaken by women) — has been in the UK since it was produced here (? Kent) in the 1070s (? finished by 1077). The agreement is being hailed/”spun” as evidence of the strength of Anglo-French relations following Brexit … hmm. More here.

Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

JAMIE EDWARDS

Garden

“Orchestra” from the Hell wing of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, c.1490; Prado, Madrid

Markus Stenz conducts.

Markus Stenz conducts: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jul/13/glanert-requiem-for-hieronymus-bosch-royal-concertgebouw-orchestra#img-1

2016 was a big year for Bosch. Put on to mark the 500th anniversary of his death, major retrospectives of his work were staged at the Prado and the Noordbrabants Museum in the artist’s hometown of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, while 2016 also saw the publication ( … finally) of the findings of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project, in two sumptuously-illustrated tomes.

One thing I missed among all of this, though, was the appearance of a major new choral work inspired by the painter and his work, composed by Detlev Glanert of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and performed in November 2016 in Sint-Janskathedraal, ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It’s a gripping listen, which merges the structure of the requiem mass with thirteenth-century poems and songs, alongside the accusatory roaring of David-Wilson Johnson, whose initial summoning of Bosch — who must subsequently stand and defend himself against charges of sin — is just ever-so-slightly terrifying. As Andrew Clements put it, the Requiem is ‘an outstanding choral achievement, a work of great power and intensely vivid invention, which uncannily finds musical parallels to Bosch’s surreal imagination, and to the extremes of his visions of heaven and hell, grandeur and intimacy.’ Well worth a listen and widely available to buy, but also on Spotify. 

Alternatively, want to know what the ‘butt music’ being played in the Hell wing of Bosch’s Earthly Delights sounds like — the music being conducted by a hideous pink monster with an enormously wide beak, and whose sheet music has been tattooed to some poor guy’s arse (pic. at top of post)? Go here.

Review: Wanting to Say: Finding a Place in the Past (New Art Gallery Walsall)

ROZEENA JABEEN (second year joint honours student in History of Art and English)

 

The Wanting to Say: Finding a Place in the Past exhibition, now on at The New Art Gallery Walsall (13 October – 22 December 2017), opened as part of Black History Month, alongside the launch of Midlands Art Papers on 12 October. The exhibition examines works from the region’s public art collection and presents them in reference to themes including storytelling, history, memory and identity. Curators Dr Greg Salter and Dr Kate Nichols, from the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies at the University of Birmingham (where I’m currently studying Art History as an Undergraduate), put together an exhibition that I found very interesting and thought-provoking, not least of all because it sums up what we might call an evolving West Midland’s identity: it’s a wonderfully multicultural place, whose identity might still be taking shape but which is partly already defined by diversity. In fact, the exhibition provides a great opportunity to view a series of works side-by-side that explore the ways in which artists – who may well have been marginalised by the official art establishment – have nevertheless found a place for themselves in the past, partly through their art, and features works by black, LGBTQ, Jewish and Irish artists.

Palmer

Eugene Palmer, Wanting to Say I, 1992; The New Art Gallery Walsall.
(Image from: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/wanting-to-say-i-19058

 

 

The title of the show Wanting to Say was taken from Eugene Palmer’s Wanting to Say I (1992), a work that is exhibited in the exhibition, which shows a black woman looking out at the viewer from what appears to be ship’s porthole. As such, this work immediately brings to mind histories of slavery and of (forced) migration; but, significantly, it also evokes black selfhood in the contexts of movement, which is conveyed most successfully by the steady gaze of the painting’s female subject. Indeed, I found this work particularly fascinating as Palmer encourages an awareness on the part of the viewer of the dynamics of looking itself, of looking and being looked at, and their implications, and forges a moment of self-recognition that is intended to be unsettling: in the history of western art, it is exceptionally meaningful to find a female figure that returns the gaze of a viewer, and this is perhaps especially true of a black female figure. For in the western tradition – and, certainly, this is the case in pre-modern art – women in art are conventionally represented as objects to be looked at: as passive objects that are subject to the heterosexual male gaze. However, in this exhibition, Palmer’s work, which is positioned alongside other works relating to the theme of ‘on the move,’ asks the viewer, or even compels the viewer, to enter into a dialogue about the histories of migration, about identity, movement, ownership and empire, women’s agency, and so on.

Anderson

Sophie Anderson, Scheherazade; The New Art Gallery Walsall.
(Image from: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/scheherazade-20336/view_as/grid/search/keyword:sophie-anderson/page/1)

 

Another work in the show, Sophie Anderson’s Scheherazade, especially fascinated me as it depicts the narrator of The Arabian Nights: a collection of tales I read as a child and which deeply resonate with me because of my Islamic and South Asian background. Perhaps in spite of the Victorian inclination towards “Orientalism” here, Scheherazade displays a woman whose ability to tell stories ensures her survival; a woman that again presents a sense of self and of agency, articulated once more through her direct gaze. Contextually, Anderson was a pioneer for women artists, as it was still very difficult for women to train and practice successfully as artists; Anderson, however, was one of the first women artist to have a painting purchased for a public collection in 1871. In the history of Western art, women, not only as subjects in art but as actual artists, have traditionally been marginalised if not actually debarred from the art world, yet Anderson challenges this notion by asserting, to a degree, female agency and autonomy that may well have been intended to inspire women viewers who, by and large, were confined to the gendered space of the home and the role of housewife.

This show, then, draws on a range of artistic traditions, stories, and fragments from the past and is a reminder of how migration shaped British art and how the western tradition in art has operated a system of exclusion rather than inclusion, which, when it is brought out into the open and subjected to scrutiny, can hopefully pave the way for greater inclusivity in the future. The Wanting to Say: Finding a Place in the Past exhibition at The New Art Gallery Walsall is an enlightening and thought-provoking show: it is fascinating for me to see how diverse artists working across time found a place for themselves in the past through their art. The exhibition also reveals some insight into what research and projects the lecturers of the Art History, Curating and Visual Studies Department here at The University of Birmingham get up to – which is encouraging to upcoming graduates such as myself!

Settler States: Cultural Studies of the Colonies – a conference at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 23-24 May 2017

Professor Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll is organising a conference on art history in settler states. It will also feature papers by our very own Dr Kate Nichols and Dr Greg Salter – read on to find out more!

The legacy of cultural studies has included a potential expansion of art histories beyond a geographic complacency, singular notion of heritage and time. In the birthplace of cultural studies, global art history in Birmingham studies the perspectives of artists outside the Euro-American academy. This conference focusses on what can be learned and written about art history in settler-colonial states. Taking the expansion of objects, methods, and the canon into account, how can we rewrite the art history of settler states? In realising that the current frameworks for working with Indigenous art are ill-equipped to handle the challenges and reality of our globalized world, Art History in Settler States will focus on developing new tools to respond to the various dynamics of settler-colonial societies that were a part of the British Empire.

Burning of the Boyd, Whangaroa Harbour, 1809 by Walter Wright

Burning of the Boyd, Whangaroa Harbour, 1809 by Walter Wright

Keynote speakers from five countries – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The United States and South Africa – will guide this analysis. The colonisation of these nations, defined at the time as virgin or empty land, sought to replace the Indigenous population in order to inhabit the land themselves. The Anglo model of setter-colonialism also colonised any prior settlers and thereby enforced a subsequent pattern of forced and voluntary migration. For these nations the settler is not a homogenous or fixed figure, but one upon whom the history of settlement has been inscribed. We will explore comparisons to exploitation colonies like India, and to the problems of other settlements around the world.

By replacing the narrative of nationhood with an emphasis on the processes and impacts of the settler-invader, settler-colonial art history responds to the indigenous challenge to recognise that colonising practices continue to structure daily life in countries that have generally preferred to think of themselves as post-colonial. Thereby, settler-colonial art history is not only about the settlers, it is also art history authored by settlers who are cognisant of their historical position and who actively seek new ways to respond to both ethical and epistemological dilemmas created by settler-colonialism.

For more information on the speakers and the project see: www.settler-colonial.strikingly.com

The conference will take place in the Barber Lecture Theatre, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TS, United Kingdom from the 23-24 May 2017.
The conference is free to attend and open to the public.

Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll joins us as Professor of Global Art

This year, the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies welcomed Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll who joins us as Professor of Global Art.  An expert in global contemporary art and colonialism as well as the history of museums and collecting, she completed a Ph.D. in 2009 on Aboriginal Art at Harvard University, with the thesis entitled: Imaging Nation: The Resilience of Indigenous Australian Art and its Colonial Representation. Following her studies at Harvard, Khadija lectured at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, University College London and the University of Cambridge.

Photograph of Professor Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll

This year Khadija has lectured on the MA module Criticism and Methods and Theorising Exhibitions. Next academic year she will be teaching a new final year undergraduate special subject entitled Global Contemporary Art as well as contributing to the design of a new Art and Law module. Also engaged in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Khadija is organising a conference on Art History in Settler States: Cultural Studies of the Colonies with Settler Colonial on 23-24 May 2017, which we’ll be posting about shortly.

Khadija is the author of Art in the Time of Colony (2014), a book that investigates encounters between colonial visual cultures, unveiling new perspectives through complex biographies of five key objects. Among numerous published articles her most recent work includes articles ‘The Art of Dissident Domesticity’, a collaboration with Jesse Shipley and Michal Murawski in Social Text and ‘Botanical Conflicts: Marianne North’ in Third Text. She is also co-editor of the journal Third Text as well as a regular contributor to Art Monthly Australasia. She is also currently working on a book entitled Fragile Crown: Empire, Collection, Restoration.

As an artist, Khadija has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Savvy Contemporary Berlin, Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin, Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Marrakech Biennale. Her work ranges from writing to performance and video installations, and often focusses on alternate histories. She has also curated/co-created various international exhibitions such as The Lost World (Part 2), Kranich Museum, Vienna Zocolo, and Homebase IV Berlin. Currently, she is the artist in residence at Border Criminologies within the Law Faculty at Oxford University, where she works on an immigration detention archive, and a play which premiered in Switzerland at the Konzerttheatre Bern on March 16, 2017.

Together with that of Dr Gregory Salter, Professor Carroll’s appointment significantly expands our teaching and research expertise in modern and contemporary art.

Read more about Khadija on her birmingham profile here.

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