Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Questioning Images: Pop Art

James Rosenquist, I Love you with my Ford (1961)
Why were the Pop Artists so obsessed with food, women and technology?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Monday, 15 September 2014

New Member of Staff: Michael Tymkiw

So many new faces!

We are once again pleased to announce that Michael Tymkiw will be joining our staff as a Lecturer in Art History in January 2015. Michael recently completed his PhD in Art History at the University of Chicago, and is currently on a Max Planck Post-Doctoral fellowship in Florence.

His PhD dissertation explores the issues of spectatorship within the context of National Socialist exhibition design. Michael received his BA in French from Yale University, and an MBA at the University of Chicago.

We look forward to welcoming him to the Art History team in the new year.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

New Member of Staff: Ayla Lepine

Once again, we have the pleasure of announcing a new member of staff, who will start with us here in Art History in September: Ayla Lepine.

Ayla studied Art History at the University of Victoria, and Theology at Oxford, before doing an MA and PhD in Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she also held a post-doc position. Among other places, she has taught at Yale, Nottingham, and the Courtauld.

She is currently completing a monograph entitled "Restless Utopias: Medievalism and Modernity in Britain and America, 1880-­1940".

For further information on her research, see Ayla's website, and follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

New Member of Staff: Gavin Grindon

We are pleased to announce that Gavin Grindon will be joining the staff here at Art History at Essex, starting in September. 

Gavin will join the University in September as Lecturer in Contemporary Art and Curating.   Grindon holds a PhD from the University of Manchester (“Carnival against Capital: The Theory of Revolution as Festival”) as well as an MA in Cultural Criticism (Manchester) and a BA in English Literature (Leeds).
Gavin recently co-curated the highly successful exhibition Disobedient Objects at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

For further information on his research, see his website, and follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

50th Anniversary Homecoming Weekend

We're looking forward to welcoming back our alumni and former members of staff on the 13th of September, 2014, for our Departmental Lunch!

On the 12-14 of September, the University of Essex will be hosting out 50th Anniversary Homecoming Weekend.

Art History at Essex is delighted to invite all of our former staff and students along to a FREE departmental lunch from 12:30pm - 2:30pm on Saturday 13th of September.

This will be a relaxed affair and will give you the opportunity to catch up with former colleagues, especially those you haven't seen for years - or maybe even decades!

Head to the website for more information, and to book your FREE place (booking is essential!).

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Lecture Notes: Valerie Fraser on Stubbs/Perez

Amador Perez, Drawing 1

It’s always good to have more than one pair of eyes focusing on a work of art. The other day after lecturing on 18th century landscape painting I arranged for us to look at a couple of drawings from our collection of Latin American art based on a painting by George Stubbs of 1786. The original, now in Tate Britain, shows a very successful team – jockey John Larkin on the racehorse Otho – both very stiff and proud against a stormy sky. 

200 years later, in 1986, Brazilian Amador Perez reworked aspects the picture on a very small scale - we were taking it in turns to get a really close squint - and guess what? Sharp-eyed students spotted things in one of the drawings that I'd never noticed: a white horse with no rider and just a suggestion of wings, and a horse and rider conflated into a sort of blurry centaur who instead of a riding crop holds a bow and arrow. Wonderful! Perez is extending ideas of the speed, power and man-horse teamwork involved in horse racing into the realms of mythology – of Pegasus the winged horse, and Sagittarius, the bow-and-arrow carrying centaur.

So thank you, students, for helping me see Perez more clearly, and thanks too to Perez for helping me to see Stubbs in a new light. Very satisfying.

George Stubbs, Otho with John Larkin up

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Exhibition Spotlight: Radical Geometry at the RA

By Suzanne Nolan

Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection opens at the Royal Academy on the 5th of July, and runs until the 28th of September. The exhibition

"spans a dynamic periods of South America art, charting the emergence of several distinct artistic movements in the cities of Montevideo (Uruguay), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Caracas (Venezuela), from the 1930s to 1970s."

In addition, the exhibition is co-curated by two of the Art History department's alumni, Dr. Adrian Locke and Gabriel Perez-Barreiro, which makes it doubly exciting for us. I was lucky enough to have been invited to the Press View on the 1st of July, and a number of our staff, alumni, and friends went along to the Preview event that evening.

Carlos Cruz-Diez's Physichromie No 500, 1970
Photo: Royal Academy of Arts

I should start by saying that it was a roaring success, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be exceptionally popular while open. Even for people who know little to nothing about Latin America Art. The timing of the exhibition has been perfect - as the world looks across to Latin America for the World Cup, so more light is being shed of the culture of the South American countries.

And what a culture it is. While the works were clearly inspired by the likes of Kandinsky, each takes on a unique perspective. Presented with abstract geometry, I was impressed with just how the works affected me as I walked through the space. While Abstraction developed in Europe, these South American artists have taken it above and beyond, and deftly made it their own. Their use of lines and shading recall pre-Columbian motifs and architecture, developing a modern artistic style while retaining their heritage.

Joaquín Torres-García’s Construction in White and Black, 1938

And the exhibition has been masterfully put together. Moving through the Sackler Wing, the works jump from the light grey walls in a flurry of bold colour and design. The clean, dull aesthetic of the space itself allows the works to shine, and allows them to have the impact they so clearly deserve.

Stepping through the rooms, you will eventually be faced head on with Jesús Soto's Nylon Cube (1990). This piece alone deserves special recognition. It is fun and dynamic on its own, but placed within he centre of the room, it adds new dimensions to the works around it. Looking through the nylon treads at the other Venezuelan artists gives new perspectives to otherwise stand-alone pieces. It creates another gallery entirely, looking through Soto's eyes.

I cannot recommend this exhibition more. It combines beautiful aesthetic with excellent design to create an exhibition that really does present a 'radical reappraisal' of the movements, the countries, and the decades it spans. Not only that, but that Art History at Essex has been involved in the making of two such talented Curators - well, that's just a bonus.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Brand new art venue in Kent: The Old Big School Gallery

By Dr Michaela Giebelhausen

Eleanor Crook, Think back to partings which one had long since seen coming (2014)

The Old Big Schoolgallery at Tonbridge School opened its doors to the public in January this year. It is run as a not-for-profit space that showcases work by established and emerging artists. It also aims to provide a forum for work produced by the school's students and staff. The handsome Victorian school room with its pointed windows and decorative roof beams has been transformed into a contemporary gallery. Along the white-washed walls runs a discreet picture rail and high-tec track lighting floats from the ceiling. At the far end of the gallery a mezzanine level has been inserted. A number of solid partitions can be locked into different positions to subdivide the large room, making this an elegant and versatile display space that blends charming architectural character with a subtle white cube flair.

Emily Glass, the curator at OBS Gallery, put together an ambitious and thought-provoking inaugural exhibition, which presented an impressive array of works by established artists such as Henry Moore, Cornelia Parker, Tracey Emin and Chris Ofili alongside works by recent art school graduates, former students of Tonbridge School and current staff (download the exhibition catalogue here).

In the Flesh explored the body and its representation whilst also inviting reflection on the materiality of the work itself. The focus was on the figure, whether human, animal or spiritual, imagined or real, representational or abstract, portrait or specimen.

Susan Aldworth Reassembling the Self 5 (2012)

The representation of the human figure is quite often a play on the portrait. A number of works in the show stretched the notion of portraiture. In Susan Aldworth's lithograph Reassembling the Self (2012) we encounter the human figure distorted and fragmented by the experience of schizophrenia in what the artist called an anti-portrait. Charlotte Chisholm reworked her own childhood self in Ghost (2014), a photograph she took during a screening of a home movie made by her parents. The former cavorting self is now arrested, and in it stillness paradoxically attests to the passage of time.

Steve Dilworth's Dance of Death (2007)

In A complete failure of the electrical impulses which keep the heart beating (2013), Thomas Parkhouse engages in portraiture of a different kind: he has cast in clay objects designed to be worn. The recast garments speak poignantly of the absent wearer. In casting unstable materials such as leather and cloth Parkhouse implicitly draws attention to the ephemerality and fragility of the body that inhabits the garment and that has shaped its folds and creases. Similarly, Steve Dilworth's Dance of Death (2007) casts the dessicated bodies of a rat and a cat, both dead from arsenic poison and grotesquely stood upright, in the smooth and stable materiality of bronze. Cornelia Parker perhaps offers the most radical transformation of material in Bullet Drawing (2009). Here the bullet's determined and lethal trajectory is spun into a delicate filament that is bent into an uneven grid.

For more information check out what the curator and some of the participating artists had to say:


And don't forget to set your compass to East by South East and explore the Old Big School's upcoming exhibition which will feature work by some of the most fascinating and innovative artists from China, Tibet and Japan:

Collect, Exchange, Display: Artistic Practice and the Medical Museum

By Dr Sarah Symmons, June 2014

The ten papers delivered in the MacRae Gallery at the Hunterian Museum on 6th June created an enriching conference experience ably organised by Natasha Ruiz-Gómez and Mary Hunter (of McGill University). 

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the event delivered stimulating speakers and debated surprising ideas regarding the historical development of medical museums, their place in modern culture, the changing parameters of visitor engagement and, above all, the dialogue between medical models and contemporary artworks.

Keynote Speaker Christine Borland
Julia Kristeva’s 'throng of forsaken bodies' might well have been seen as abject, inhabiting an existential void by writers in the 1970s and 80s, but the general consensus here offered very different conclusions. The cadaver, specimen and forensic reconstruction tracked a new form of beauty and identity, established by Enlightenment researchers and artists, redeveloped by the acolytes of eugenics, immortalised in the bounding lines of draughtsmen, from Gottingen to Lisbon, forming moving balletic sequences in performing art and becoming the prey of the artistic imagination. 

Keynote speaker, Christine Borland, brought the discourse up to date with her Turner Prize-shortlisted achievement in 1997, which drew inspiration from laboratory research of forensic detectives and now is evolving into new poetic reconstructions from anatomical dissections inside medical schools. Throughout these proceedings 'the bits that were you', as Philip Larkin put it, fight back with such power and elegance that there is little room for the abject. Do visitors, in fact, need protecting? Some curators, notably those at the Narrenturm in Vienna, where the opening hours are probably the most restrictive of any museum in the world, clearly believe that viewing specimens of human remains will drive spectators to insanity. Others rush to instill politically correct behaviour. Terms such as ‘dignity and respect’ were often repeated like mantra or reading the rosary when speakers defined the ‘investigative wonderment’ of Whakaaro Pai in Auckland, or avoided speculating on why medical museums declined in number and interest in the mid twentieth century. 

'Life and Death Mask I' Lisa Temple-Cox 2011

Clearly more conferences are needed to explore these fascinating phenomena, and audience discussion, often passionate, drew unique illumination from the artists. Confronting the specimen as a form of self identity, self adornment and self mutilation may well provide answers to the many questions and set a wholly new series of agendas. 

Art History: Research and Study

Dr Matt Lodder talks about his research and studying Art History at Essex

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Exhibition Spotlight: Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight

Natasha Ruiz-Gómez
April 2014

I was mesmerized by the video that greets the visitor to the British Library's current
exhibition, Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight. In NASA's Perpetual Ocean (2011),
ocean currents are rendered as spiraling white lines that make and unmake themselves as
they whirl across the surface of this virtual earth. The exhibition makes a powerful argument
for the critical importance of the visual in communicating scientific data and helping
scientists and others (including Florence Nightingale, whose important 'Diagram of the
Causes of Mortality in the Army' during the Crimean War is displayed nearby) to persuade
their audiences. As I stood transfixed, I became aware that I was recalling the waves and
eddies that animate Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night (1889, New York, Museum of Modern
Art), and I was struck by the unexpected ways that art can illuminate science, and science art.

Exhibition URL:

Video URL:

Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East Florence Nightingale. Notes on matters, affecting the health, efficiency and hospital administration of the British Army. London, 1858. [BL]

Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night (1889) [MOMA]

Friday, 21 March 2014

Lecture Notes: Lisa Wade on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through the eyes of Hollywood

In this regular series, art historians from the University of Essex provide thoughts on highlights from their lecture portfolios. First up, Deputy Head of School Dr Lisa Wade pulls out some contemporary takes on a literary classic as part of our interdisciplinary 'Enlightenment' module.

Lecturer: Lisa Wade

I’ve just given the final lecture in the first year Enlightenment series for this term, on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein! We looked at a number of themes including creation and birthing and with this in mind also recommended this YouTube link for students new to the text (click on the link above). This is a grand scale moment in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film version of Mary Shelley’s novel. Obviously there are some liberties seized, rather than taken. I’m sure it’s not entirely reflective of nineteenth century midwifery (more swashbuckling than blood-soaked) but I do think that it really helps to consider some of the broader themes that we’ve been grappling with. Sir Ken is both mythological creator and birth ‘Mother.’ So we see him stripped to the waist, sweating over the task in hand, variously lifting and pulling, injecting and apparently electrocuting (how totally Hollywood!) as he commands the elements! The final triumphant ‘YES!’ is no doubt intended as a parallel to the elation felt by mothers after the process of labour. No swearing here, though! Certainly the ‘blood and gore-free’ delivery environment (it was all gelatine, I understand) prompted me to think of blood and gore free Christian nativity scenes...
But that’s a whole other (second-year!) lecture.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Exhibition Spotlight: Georgians Revealed

By Dr Natasha Ruiz-Gómez

A short summary of my favourite exhibition so far in 2014.

Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain
British Library
Until March 11 2014

"Tasteful and polite, or riotous and pleasure-obsessed? Discover the Georgians as they really were, through the objects that tell the stories of their lives."
1. What is your favourite exhibition that you have been to so far this year?
Georgians Revealed at the British Library.

2.Who did you go with?
I went to the exhibition alone.

3. What was your favourite of art, or artist, from the exhibition?
The heeled clogs that protected the delicate shoes worn by posh ladies, so that they wouldn't get soiled on the dirty streets of England!

4. Using one word or phrase, how would you describe the exhibition?

Friday, 14 March 2014

Is studying Art History only for the 'posh'?

By Dr. Matthew Bowman

"Studying Art History is like learning how to analyse your own culture" - A level student, Sam Message.

A recent article in the Guardian has argued that the study of art history is 'not just a subject for posh girls', despite misconceptions and existing prejudices.

Matt Bowman has his say:

"Being neither posh nor a girl myself, it’s heartening to read a public reminder that art history is not an intellectual leisure activity for upper-middle classes and higher girls and women. Coming from a working class background and doing fifteen-to-eighteen hour shifts nearly every Saturday during my teenage years as a milkman’s assistant, a fascination for art and comics opened my eyes towards distant horizons far removed from my upbringing. My original aim was to be become a comic book artist, but I ended up studying art and then found my way into researching art history. Studies have long shown that social classes tend to reproduce themselves from generation to generation, and so the false notion that art history is for the rich rather than the poor plays an unfortunate role in that reproduction. This notion also threatens to engender snobbishness and philistinism while obstructing potential and more productive thoughts. Culture is one of the ways we define ourselves, and identifying the production and reception of culture with the rich threatens to deny others a part in that ongoing definition. Art opened a horizon for me, and I can only congratulate Caroline Osborne’s efforts in doing the same for others. Art can invite moments of convergence between different social classes, even though their lift experiences might be wildly different."

Monday, 10 March 2014

Paper: After Word, Thought, Life: A Stroll in Parisian Parks

By Dr. Michaela Giebelhausen


This afterword takes the reader on a lyrical psychogeographic drift (dérive) through Paris’ green spaces, from the Buttes-Chaumont of Aragon’s Paris Peasant back through the jardin anglais of the Parc Monceau and the grounds of colonial expositions to the bright red follies of the late twentieth-century Parc de la Villette.  The pavilions met with here are like relics, living out their afterlives, triggering memories and imagination, reminding the reader of the changeability of function and meaning that makes it so difficult to pin down such structures.

This paper can be downloaded, for free, here.

17.4 Fragment of the Hôtel de Ville, destroyed in the civil
war of 1871. Photograph: Michaela Giebelhausen.

The Open Arts Journal

The Open Arts Journal addresses the demand for a rigorously compiled, peer-reviewed platform for arts scholarship open to diverse participants. Our dissemination is global, spanning multiple communities including practitioners of art, architecture and design, curators and arts policy-makers, and researchers in the arts and heritage sectors.

Developing from a broad base of interests the Open Arts Journal emphasises innovation, in both content and medium and by virtue of a bespoke digital design. Our contributors encompass a wide range of scholars, from professionals to provocateurs, with original visual essays and polemics; reflections on art from curators and artists; and the fruits of rigorous theoretical, historical or longitudinal research.

The Open Arts Journal is also a tactical initiative. It confronts the mixed blessings brought to the arts and humanities by current developments in ‘open access’ scholarship. Many of the dominant platforms for academic publishing that are free for their readers operate by drawing fees from their contributors. We feel that such arrangements frustrate if not subvert the opportunities presented by digital distribution of academic scholarship for use ‘on demand’.

With an administrative home in the Department of Art History at The Open University, the Open Arts Journal makes an alternative, distinctive offer. Ours is a robust and imaginative response issuing from within the arts community, with an ethos of ‘openness’ toward those who may benefit from genuine ‘open access’ scholarly activity online.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Upcoming Conference: Artistic Practice and the Medical Museum

By Dr Natasha Ruiz-Gómez

The call for papers deadline has been and gone, and now we're sorting through all the abstracts. There is some great research out there...

For hundreds of years, medical collections have been sites of medical and artistic exchange. Not only were many of their contents created by artists and physicians, but the collections were also often compiled by doctors, who were themselves artistes-manqués. Although medical museums have recently received attention in museological and historical studies, they remain relatively ignored within art historical scholarship.

Lisa Temple-Cox, Experience 8, 2007. Mixed media.

This one-day conference will look at the anatomical, pathological or medical museum from the perspectives of art history and visual culture. Artists have utilised these spaces for the study of anatomy and pathology–as well as for ideas and inspiration–but what do we know about the artists, photographers and craftsmen and women who have worked within the museum? How can we theorise the collecting practices of the doctors who founded and/or ran these museums? What role did these spaces and their contents have on artistic practice, visual representation and the writing of art and medical histories? How does the medical museum continue to play a role in contemporary art-making and medical learning? From the wax modelers to the commissioning physicians to the painters and sculptors who were inspired by its contents, this conference will spark a dialogue about the artistry of the medical museum.

This conference will take place on 6 June 2014 in the MacRae Gallery of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

We anticipate publishing a selection of papers from the conference in an edited anthology.

For further information, visit our web page

This conference is associated with the ‘The Sculpture of the Échorché’ conference at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds on 7 June 2014.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Operation Spanner: Sadomasochism, Law and Culture

By Dr. Matt Lodder

In 1987, a group of homosexual men were arrested and charged with 'unlawful and malicious wounding' and 'assault occasioning actual bodily harm' for having participated in an entirely consensual group orgy involving sadomasochistic sex acts. The judge in the initial case, now known as R vs Brown, ruled that consent was no defence to the charges levelled, and all the men charged were convicted.

The case was appealed by three of the men, Colin Laskey, Roland Jaggard and Anthony Brown to both the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights, but at every stage, the convictions were upheld, despite persistent criticism by legal scholars and human rights activists. The case, whose ruling still technically remains in force despite the obvious lack of interest contemporary police show in enforcing it, had profound impacts on several spheres of cultural life in Britain both within and beyond the initial impacted communities.

This talk, almost thirty years on from the initial arrests and twenty years on from the ECHR ruling, presents and discusses some of these impacts, particularly in the cultural sphere.

"Dominic Johnson's work on Ron Athey and Franko B, 'Intimacy and Live Art', from which Dr Lodder quotes at length, can be found in Histories and Practices of Live Art, ed. by Deirdre Heddon and Jennie Klein (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). 

For more on the case, see The Spanner Trust website at Apologies to both Roland Jaggard and Tony Brown for the inadvertent transposition of their names at the beginning of the lecture.