Newsletter Archive: Spring 1998
Director's Lecture Tour to the United States
Arranging a lecture tour is the epitome of casting one's bread on the water: you send off letters to various institutions with a list of titles and then wait, hoping that serendipity will arrange some sort of pattern between dates, locations and offers. By good fortune my contacts replied in a way which produced a compact programme between Charlottesville and Boston.
Appropriately enough my visit began in Washington, where I attended a lunch at CASVA and a dinner hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Nitze. I also enjoyed a guided tour of a stunning exhibition of Cambodian art at the National Gallery, by the curator, Helen Jessup, a Courtauld graduate who thereby reinforced my belief that, while our curriculum may be centred on the western tradition, the education we offer provides a basis for work in much wider fields. The I.M. Pei building at the Gallery made me think that, however splendid Somerset House may be, one has to acknowledge the stimulus of working in a great building of ones own century. I was struck by the fact that passers by had chosen to "handle" two parts of this pristine, geometrical composition, namely the 180 'prow at the south end of the facade, and Peis name in the inscription in the foyer, as if it were a relic.
Thereafter, travelling by plane and train (which, I was partly relieved to find, were of a broadly British reliability) I lectured at the University of Virginia, the Mellon Centre in Yale, and at Princeton, Connecticut and Wellesley. Connecticut held a particular surprise, in the form of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford: I did not know of this rich and varied set of collections.
Finally, having begun in the governmental and institutional capital of the country I ended the tour in the financial and cultural one, lecturing at the Institute of Fine Art and Columbia University and attending a meeting of the Somerset House Art History Foundation in New York.
Most of the lectures were on aspects of the architecture of the Middle Ages, the responses to which gave me a great deal of useful information and new ways of assessing the material. That on Art History and Evolution produced the most pointed responses. Thus one of my hosts at Princeton congratulated me on delivering a lecture which had "something for everyone to disagree with!" The questions raised by this subject are substantial ones, not least that of whether evolution has an inherent direction.
I have referred to the visit as a lecture tour, but, as is evident from these comments, it included many other events besides, such as enjoyable dinners at which I made new friends and established contacts. I also had meetings with both individuals and trusts which I hope will prove important for the Courtauld in the future. I enjoyed the warmest hospitality and would particularly like to record my gratitude to Henry Millon, Patrick McCaughey, Michael Mahoney, Jim Marrow, Colum Hourihane, Jean Givens, Peter Ferguson, Jonathan Alexander and Stephen Murray. The tour would not have been possible without the unstinting help and friendly understanding of Barbara Ventresco and Ian Kennedy, as well as Faith Pleasanton, all of whom make such an important contribution to the American Friends of the Courtauld.
Low Countries Conference
The Courtauld Institute was recently the setting for the second twenty-four hour conference of the Association of Low Countries Studies. Formed two years ago, the Association exists to support the interdisciplinary study of the Netherlands and Belgium in Britain and Ireland. The conference took place during the short, dark days between the end of term celebrations and the Christmas holiday proper. Besides staging the biennial general meeting of the Association, the remit of the event was enjoyment, contact and stimulation, both intellectual and social.
The tone was set by an opening plenary lecture by Dr. Michael Wintle of Hull University entitled 'An orgy of liberalism. The origins of the Dutch permissive society', followed by a reception generously hosted by the Dutch Embassy. Despite the closure of the Galleries, Somerset House provided an elegant venue for this gathering, as well as a superb base from which to complete last-minute Christmas shopping.
After the reception, a merry company processed across the Thames to enjoy a vivid historical tour of the reconstructed Globe Theatre and, true to the Dutch and Flemish habit of living pleasurably, a splendid meal at the Theatre Restaurant.
The following morning was divided into parallel workshops, addressing linguistics, literary history and the effects of knowledge or lack of knowledge of the Dutch language upon the study and teaching of Netherlandish art. After lunch, and the Biennial General Meeting, the conference was concluded by a plenary lecture by Professor Lesley Price of Hull University.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its brevity and commitment to enjoyment at the end of a long, hard term, the conference managed significantly to advance the very serious purpose of developing communication between professionals working in different disciplines related to Dutch.
The First Annual Courtauld Debate
The first Annual Courtauld Debate on the motion that 'This House believes that the trade in antiquities is fundamental to the proper study of the art of the past took place on 20th November 1997. An informal champagne reception set the tone for the evening before the debate took place in the Lecture Theatre in front of a full house, including many dealers and collectors. After an introduction from Professor Eric Fernie the presentation of the arguments took place under the careful stewardship of Lord Hoffmann.
Timothy Clifford (Director, National Galleries of Scotland) argued in favour of the practice of trade in art. He stated that the process of the reception and viewing of the art of preceding civilisations was an essential component in the development of art and that trade was a vital part of this. While accepting that there were dangers inherent in trade he suggested that realism must take precedence over idealism and what he saw as unworkable UNESCO proposals.
In response to this Lord Renfrew (Director, the Macdonald Institute for Archaeological Research) presented a lively and impassioned plea for a new, controlled and moral approach to the collection of the art of the past. He stressed the importance of a knowledge of the archaeological context of excavated artworks for a proper understanding of the objects. His hope was that a recognition of this would seek to prevent the ravages made to the worlds cultural heritage which were caused by illicit excavation and trade. A fundamental part of this was for Britain to sign the UNESCO convention.
In favour of the motion Richard Jenkins (University of Oxford) contended that access to real examples of ancient and foreign art was an important constituent of education all over the world and that to stop the trade was to restrict this to those places that already possessed collections. He agreed that illicit trade was undesirable but that to prevent trade altogether was both wrong and ineffective.
The final arguments against the motion were presented by Bernie Grant MP. He agreed that education about other cultures was essential, but that often the trade in art from regions such as Africa was one which ignored the continued and living religious and cultural resonance of objects and how they were intended to be used and viewed. The process was all too frequently that of one-way movement from poor South to rich North rather than one of cultural interchange.
After these presentations the debate was opened up to the floor and some spirited interventions ensued. Various issues were put forward, ranging from the contention that the market defines art, that the value of art objects is separate from the physical circumstances of their discovery, to the argument that more objects are discovered through chance finds than illicit excavation.
After a summing up from Lord Hoffman a show of hands carried the motion overwhelmingly. The passions stirred by the topic were reflected in the continuation of animated discussion as participants left the Courtauld.
We would very much like to thank Courtaulds plc for their generous support as well as all those who helped us with the organisation of the event: in particular the speakers and Elizabeth Arnold, Deborah Brice and Anna Somers Cocks.
The 1997 Byzantine Trip to Thessaloniki
The trip began in a leisurely way with an overnight stay in Athens. Instantly we were lulled into a false sense of security by shopping and eating in the sunbathed Plaka and a tour round an uncrowded Byzantine Museum. The cold, wet welcome of Thessaloniki on the following day told us that things were going to be different from then on.
We were all excited at the prospect of visiting the Treasures of Mount Athos exhibition, particularly since the stunning works on display are usually exclusively shown to men. Our panel of experts was to include Maria Vassilaki, Yannis Stavlakis, Ephor of Byzantine Antiquities on Mount Athos and Father Symeon who, on loan from the Dionysiou monastery, maintained contact with the Abbot via his mobile phone! But before our guides could do any talking we had to get into the exhibition.
This involved two very early starts, time being held outside in a crowd control pen system and inside negotiating hordes of school children who seemed far more interested in our tour than their own.
This was not an exhibition for the faint hearted!
Thessaloniki had much more to offer besides the Athos exhibition, notably its churches. We visited the Rotunda and were fortunate, once we had braved the four levels of scaffolding, to be able to view the dazzling mosaics close up and see the conservators at work. We also visited the small church of Nicholaos Orphanos with its impressive and well preserved wall paintings and were able to see the church decked out with flowers and people in celebration of the saints day.
This trip was fast, furious, but memorable, one which enabled us to see many important and normally inaccessible works.
MA Study Visit to New York
The first Courtauld study trip to the United States took place this February, when the eight students on "The Duchamp Effect: Marcel Duchamp and American Art, 1945-98" MA course travelled to New York and Philadelphia. The five-day visit concentrated on major collections of works by Duchamp (those of the Museum of Modern Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and on commercial galleries and alternative exhibition spaces, including the ICA in Philadelphia, the New Museum in SoHo, PS 1 (a vast converted school building in Queens, housing temporary exhibitions), and the Dia Art Foundation in Chelsea.
Meetings with curators (and Courtauld alumnae) Lynne Cooke, curator of the Dia Art Foundation, and Jessica Morgan, curator of contemporary art at the Wooster Art Museum and organiser of the travelling Mona Hatoum retrospective, were arranged in co-operation with the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies.
Subsidised by the Blunt Travel Fund and by proceeds from the Courtauld Summer School, the trip was arranged at mid-term of the MA course and was deemed by all an invaluable aspect of the terms work. We hope to make similar opportunities available to students in the future and would be grateful to hear from any alumni in the New York area who might be able to house a student for a few days next spring.
Book Library Report
Once again, our thanks to all the former students who have sent us donations of their recently published books; their generosity is much appreciated.
Fundraising for a new post of Special Collections librarian to work on the library's collection of rare books and other bequests has been actively underway, and we are delighted say that funding is now in place for an appointment, initially for three years, to be made shortly. Work continues on the development of the extension of library space to house the special collections, and architects plans are being drawn up.
Last year we were able to appoint a Postgraduate Trainee for the first time, thanks to a gift from Desmond and Ann Zwemmer, who have generously extended this funding for a further year.
Creation of this post has proved to be a most successful venture, and a great asset to the library service. Sarah Gilmour, our present Postgraduate Trainee, writes about her experience this year:
'Over the last six months I have been introduced to and involved in many aspects of the daily running of the library, from cataloguing, to helping with the short loan collection, as well as more specific tasks such as helping to formalise the library's collection development policy. I have helped with the introduction of the Internet in the library, as well as attending training workshops. I produced a brief guide to the Internet for academic staff and have run training sessions for other library staff, academic staff and students. In addition, the opportunity to charter provides a more formal structure for professional development. Chartership training takes place at Kings College Library, giving me links with a much larger library.
The Library web pages are currently being redesigned, and you will shortly be able to reach information about the Library as well as the catalogue at the new address http://www.courtauld.ac.uk.
100,000 records remain in the card catalogue, and 17,000 are now accessible on-line (not the reverse, as was misprinted in the last newsletter).
Dr Sue Price Book librarian
American Friends Book Fair
The American Friends of the Courtauld held another successful Book Fair at Christies East in New York in March. Proceeds will benefit the Witt Library Endowment Fund. Special thanks to Christies for their continued generosity in hosting the event and to Faith Pleasanton, Chris Malstead, Dale Miller, Gabriel Austin, Jaap Rietman, the many alumni and Friends who helped out and to all the people who contributed books.
What do you remember about your time at the Courtauld?
Whether you were at Portman Square or Somerset House, whether you once used the Conway Library for research in 1992 or were trapped in the lift with Johannes Wilde for three hours in 1951 your reminiscences would be of interest. As resident archivist, just having finished work on the Blunt papers, I am interested in any old material on the Institute, and I can guarantee that it will be properly recorded and filed. I am also looking for photographs of past staff and students and any material pertaining to the history of the Institute, from old prospectuses to student magazines. The centenary is less than thirty years away; lets leave posterity something to work with.
Susan Scott, Archivist
at Portman Square dies after long illness
Joan Todd, who worked as Receptionist/Telephonist at the Institute from 1967-81 died on 3rd February, after a long illness. She will be remembered by many who knew the Institute in its Portman Square days, plugging the old switchboard, saying 'Its a great life if you dont weaken. For anyone who would like to send a donation in her memory, she wished donations to be made to the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, c/o Leverton and Sons Ltd., 1 Denmark Terrace, Fortis Green, London N2 9HG.