MA, PhD (Courtauld, University of London) 

Contact details

The Courtauld Institute of Art

Somerset House


London WC2R 0RN

+44 (0)20 8 983 37 38

Sarah Wilson is an art historian and curator whose interests extend from postwar and Cold War Europe and the USSR to contemporary global art. She was educated at the University of Oxford (English Literature) and at The Courtauld where she took her MA and Ph.D degrees. In 1997 she was made Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government for services to French art and culture. In 2008 she was a presidential candidate for the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). She holds a chaire d’excellence at the Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin for the years 2012 and 2013, where her project ‘Globalisation before Globalisation : Modernisms, Academies, Revolutions’ has so far established contacts with Russian and Chinese  Fine Arts academies and  intends to rewrite and rethink the standard ‘isms-based’ curriculum.

Former students are a source of particular pride. They now have prominent positions in academia, museums and galleries all over the world: in Britain, Tate, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Barbican Art Gallery, British Council, London galleries such as the Haunch of Venison, Hauser and Wirth, Timothy Taylor and White Cube;  beyond Britain, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Phoenix Museum of Art, the Kunstmuseum Bremen, the French Ministry of Culture, the Universities of London, Cambridge, Bristol, Manchester and Amsterdam to name but a few.

Professor Wilson is actively involved with Courtauld alumni and during 2011 celebrated their achievements at the Venice, Thessaloniki and Moscow Biennales. In the same year with alumni officer Janine Catalano she launched the French alumni group in Paris and the Italian alumni group in Rome.

She has been responsible for introducing works by several contemporary artists to The Courtauld’s East Wing Collection (orginated by the late Joshua Compston), and is involved in its year-long video, film and talks programmes. Her continuing commitment to women artists has meant that Zofia Kulik and Alina Szapocznikow, for example, exhibited at the Courtauld prior to their current international prominence.

Professor Wilson believes strongly in working with artists and their archives. She has supervised 23  doctoral theses and over 150 MA dissertations.   


In 2010-11, with Mellon Professor Boris Groys (New York University) Sarah Wilson initiated a new MA course, ‘Global Conceptualism’, which links Anglo-American conceptual art and European lineages stemming from Mallarmé, Duchamp and structural linguistics, with conceptual art practices originating in Moscow or taken up beyond the ‘first’ world. She has recently been appointed to the International Advisory Boards of the Virtual Russian Museum Saint Petersburg, and the European University of Saint Petersburg (Department of Art History), and works actively with the contemporary exhibition and talks programme of Calvert 22 in London, which reaches out to Russia and Eastern Europe. 

Invited Professor at Paris-IV Sorbonne for the academic years 2002-4, Sarah Wilson shared responsibilities with Serge Lemoine (former director of the Musée d’Orsay), and was commissioned to write a report by the French Minister for Research on the new Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art. In 2006-7 she introduced an art history strand to final year painting and sculpture students at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.

At The Courtauld, the doctoral and MA theses Sarah Wilson has supervised over the years now constitute a unique English-language archive in the field of post-1945 European and Soviet/Russian art history. Many have lead to important publications by former students. Recent MA courses include ‘Towards contemporary art, Postmodernism and Postcommunism in Europe and beyond’ (2005-9) and ‘Intellectual Revolution, Art and Theory in France after 1958.’ She initiated the study of performance art - a popular option. New BA courses include Beyond Black, Contemporary Art in Britain Now’, ‘From Mallarmé to Matisse’.


Paris-Capital of the Arts, 1937-1957 poster

Following an initiation with Paris - Capital of the Arts, 1937-1957 at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Sarah Wilson was prinicipal London co-curator with Germain Viatte for the Barbican Art Gallery’s inaugural exhibition Aftermath, France, New Images of Man, 1945-1954. She subsequently co-curated the Raoul Dufy retrospective at the Hayward Gallery and the English section of La Planete affolée, (Marseilles).

More recently, she was principal curator of 'Paris, Capital of the Arts, 1900-1968’ (Royal Academy of Arts, London and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao in 2001-2) and the Pierre Klossowski retrospective exhibition (with 'The Vicious Circle’) for the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (Ludwig Museum, Cologne, also 2006, Centre Pompidou, in 2007).

Throughout her career she has worked with intellectuals and curators and artists from Europe, contributing to several Centre Pompidou catalogues, including Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters, Face à l'histoire, Féminin-masculin, Le Sexe de l'art, Beaubourg La Trentaine, Traces du Sacré (2008), and Voids (2009).

Current research interests

  • The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations, published by Yale University Press in 2010 is the culmination of a continuing interdisciplinary project investigating the direct links between French philosophers artists of their times (here Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida). The French translation is in preparation with Les Presses du Réel, Dijon.

  • The Visual World of French Theory: Interventions will form the second part of a diptych, exploring the art worlds of Roland Barthes, Guy Hocquenghem, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Lyotard. The emphasis will be on structuralism and psychoanalysis, while female artists and philosophers will introduce a pertinent critique of the voices in the Figurations volume. Research has been supported by CNRS research fellowship linked to the Centre André Chastel, Paris-IV, Sorbonne and a Brown Fellowship (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) at the Dora Maar House, Menerbes, France.

  • Picasso / Marx In the context of the international 'Former West’ project is in preparation for Liverpool University Press. In the context of exhibitions 'Picasso, Peace and Freedom’ (Tate Liverpool) 'Picasso, Moscow’ (Pushkin museum) and recent international conferences Marxism, it will attempts to inscribe these figures into contemporary debates. Thanks to the British Academy for a grant linked to France’s année franco-russe 2010.

  • Art, Politics and Globalisation: France, 1900-1989 is the project to be pursued in 2012-2013 at the Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin. It will contrast France's exportation of Beaux-Arts and avant-garde models, with the revolutionary political model: Paris, global hub of the 1900, 1925, 1931 and 1937 fairs, will be investigated also as the seat of Comintern and Cominform European operations from 1933-1953. Pro-leftist, anti-American battle lines set up then still split the global art world; the significant material heritage contrasts with pre-1989 'French theory' as France's now dominant cultural export.

Recent publications

In the press:

'Comintern spin doctor, Willi Münzenberg, artiste en révolution, 1889-1940, 2008', English Historical Review, 2012

`Alina Szapocznikow in Paris: worlds in action and in retrospect’, Alina Szapocznikow eds, A. Jakubowska d M. Dziewanska, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw

`Kantor’s art from informel to installationKantor was here ed. K. Murawska-Muthesius, London, Black Dog Publishing, 2010

`Raymond Mason, a last Romantic?Sculpture Journal, vol 19.2, 2010

`Comintern spin doctor. Willi Münzenberg, artiste en révolution, 1889-1940, 2008’, English Historical  Review, 2010

cover of The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations, Yale University Press, 2010Books:

The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations, Yale University Press, 2010

Matisse, Barcelona, Ediciones Poligrafa, 2009 (English and Spanish editions)

Articles, catalogue essays, interviews, reviews:

'Moscow Romantic Exceptionalism: the suspension of disbelief'

'Il realismo socialista francese, 1945-1970', Realismi socialisti, Grande pittura sovietica 1920-1970, Rome, Palazzo della Espozione (Milan, Skira), pp.247-253

'Ruth Francken. Photography rooted, uprooted', Chantal Pontbriand ed., Mutations - Perspectives on Photography, Paris Photo/Steidl, pp.350-3 (Ruth Francken. Photographie enracinée, déracinée' ibid., French edition)

'Alina Szapocznikow in Paris: worlds in action and in retrospect', in Agata Jakubowska ed., Alina Szapoczniko Awkward Objects, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, pp.211-228

'Kantor's art from informel to installation', Kantor was here ed. Katarzyna Murawska-Muthesius, London, Black Dog Publishing, pp.129-139

'Enluminures: representations de William Blake', ['Illuminations: Imagining William Blake'], La Revue de la BNU (Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg), Autumn 2011, no.4, Esotérisme et Littérature, p.31-41

'Lucio Fanti, le projet du futur', Lucio Fanti, Peinture et Théâtre, Paris, Thalia, pp.48-68

'Raymond Mason, a last Romantic?', Sculpture Journal, vol 19.2, 2011, pp.248-254

'Acrostic for Chaissac', Gaston Chaissac, London, Connaught Brown, np.

'One of a thousand ways to defeat entropy?', One of a thousand ways to defeat entropy (Arsenale Novissimo, Venice Biennale), London, AVC Charity Foundation, pp.46-49

Natalie Adamson, Painting, Politics and the struggle for the Ecole de Paris, 1944-1964, Farnham, Ashgate, 2009 (review). French Studies vol. LXV, 4, October 2011, pp.557-8

Jill Carrick, Nouveau Réalisme, 1960s France and the Neo-avant-garde. Topographies of Chance and Return, Aldershot and Birmingham, Ashgate Publishing 2010 (review), H-France Review vol. 11, 220 (October 2011), pp.1-4

'SW Unleashed', interview with Fiontan Bleau Moran, Death Becomes Her, 11, Surrealist Women, August 2011, np.

`Orlan: archipelagoOrlan, Simon Donger and Orlan eds. Routledge

'Entretien avec Sarah Wilson’, Josette Rasle ed., Aragon et l’art moderne, Paris, Musée de la Poste / Editions Beaux-Arts de Paris

'Nadia Léger, la griffe du siècleHommage aux donateurs, Musée Fernand Léger, Biot
Further information

'Circumspice! Look around you!', Alexander Ponomarev, Sea Stories, London, Calvert 22, pp.34-37

'De Cadenet The Skull Portraits', Alexander de Cadenet - Life Force, London, Alexia Goethe Gallery, np.

Voids, palimpsests, kitsch: Paris before KleinVoids/Vides, Paris, Editions du Centre Georges Pompidou, (English and French editions; Berne Kunsthalle, Voids, einer retrospektive)

Giacometti in Fez', for Giacometti The Anxious Body, ed. Peter Read, Ashgate Press

'Artaud, homo sacer’, Antonin Artaud, La Casa Encendida, Madrid

Francis Gruber: espace politique, espace eschatologique’, Francis Gruber, l’oeil à vif, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy.

Ponomarev: Sea ChangeAlexander Ponomarev: Subtiziano, Venice Biennale, 2009
(English and Russian)

Fromanger, Deleuze, Bacon : o pintor o modelo’, Gérard Fromanger. A Imaginação no Poder, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Brasilia

`How to make Europe dream? Le nouveau Londres européen et l’histoire de l’art’,

Penser l’Europe VIII, Bucarest, Fondation National pour la Science et l’Art

Pourquoi y a-til l’art plutot que rien? Raphael Cuir ed., Paris, Archibooks+sautereau

`From Monuments to Fast Cars: aspects of Cold War art, 1946-57Cold War Modern, London, |Victoria and Albert Museum, 2008. pp. 26-32 ((show toured to MART, Rovereto, and National Gallery of Art, Vilnius, 2009)

`L’homme douleureux’, Traces du Sacré, Editions du Centre Georges Pompidou

`La bataille des “humbles”? Communistes et Catholiques autour de l’art sacré’,

Mélanges Bruno Foucart, Paris, Editions Norma

`The Sacred, the Profane and the Secret in the work of Niki de Saint Phalle’, Niki de Saint Phalle, Tate Liverpool, 2008

Traces du sacré: Humanism and the ‘Man of Sorrows’ in postwar European art

See ‘L’Homme douleureux’, Traces du Sacré, Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou,  2008

Politique et vanitas: Lucien Fleury et les Malassis, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dole (French Jura)

`Beaubourg, la passion la transmission’ Beaubourg, la Trentaine, Editions du Centre Georges Pompidou

``Wild, wild, wild’Oleg Kulik. Nihil inhumanum a me alienum puto, Bielfield, Kerber `Wrona-en-Luberon’ Wrona, sculptures, Galerie Kamila Jaccaud, Saignon

Pierre Klossowski cover
Pierre Klossowski, epiphanies and secrets’, Pierre Klossowski, ed. Sarah Wilson Whitechapel Art Gallery and Hatje Cantz

Germaine Richier, disquieting matriarchSculpture Journal, December

‘Narrative Figuration: théorie, politique, passions’ La Nouvelle figuration dans les collections publiques, (1964-1977) Paris, Editions Somogy

`La mémoire longue, la mémoire courte,’ Boris Taslitzky, l’arme du dessin’ Paris, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme

`Fantasmagorii Fanti’, Sobranie 3, (Moscow), special number on `The Megapolis and its visual image in past and present’

`Liliane Lijn: body, line, fire’, Liliane Lijn, Austin Desmond Fine Art.

Poststructuralism', Companion to Contemporary Art since 1945, ed. Amelia Jones, Oxford, 2005 Blackwell Companions to Art History

`Rites of Passage: Myriam Bat–Yosef and Performance’, Myriam Bat-Yosef, Paintings Objects, Performances, ed. Fabrice Pascaud, Paris, Editions Somogy (bilingual)

Adrien Sina T1+2 gallery, London


A German artist in Coventry: Jochen Gerz, The Future Monument, The Public Bench' Vivian Lovell ed., ‘The Phoenix Project' London, Black Dog Publishing, pp. 84-99


The Song of Ruth', Ruth Francken, Sprengel Museum, Hannover (bilingual)


Axell: One+One' Evelyne Axell, from Pop Art to Paradise, Paris, Editions Somogy (bilingual) pp.23-40



Cocktail Rancillac /Rancillac Cocktaill', Bernard Rancillac, Paris, Editions Somogy pp.8-49

 ‘Inzest, Travestismus, Maskerade. Zu den Performances und Installationen von Michel Journiac',  Mannlichkeit als Maskerade. Gender Studien mit blick auf ‘den' Mann, ed.    Claudia Benthien, Berlin, pp. 128-153



Zofia Kulik, from Warsaw to Cyberia', Centropa, vol.1, 3, Sept, pp. 233-244


Haute surveillance, Haute couture’, Franko B. Oh Lover boy, London, Black Dog Publishing



Erro,  l'extase matérielle', Erro, images du siècle, Paris, Galeries Nationales du Jeu de Paume, Buenos Aires np.



Editor’s introduction & ‘Postmodern romantics / Romantiques postmodernes', in Jean-François LyotardThe Assassination of Experience by Painting - Monory, ed. Sarah Wilson, London, Black Dog Publishing, pp. 12-17, 21-81.



Feminities/ Mascarades,'Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography, New York, Solomon R, Guggenheim Museum,  pp. 135-155.

`Paule Vézelay', Dictionary of Women Artists, London, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997



Réalismes sous le drapeau rouge' Face à l'histoire, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1996, pp. 244-251.


Rembrandt, Genet, Derrida', Critical Introductions to Art: Portraiture, Manchester University Press, ed. Joanna Woodall, 1996, pp. 203-216.


 ‘L'Histoire d'O, Sacred and Profane', Orlan, London, Black Dog Publishing, 1996, pp. 8-17.


Recently awarded doctorates

  • Nadim Samman,
    'Between the Gulag and the Guggenheim: (Post) Soviet Art and the USA, 1981-2001'
  • Aliya Abykayeva de Tiesenhausen,
    'Socialist Realist Orientalism? Depictions of Soviet Central Asia 1934-1954’ 2010
  • Nicholas Cullinan
    'Past Imperfect: Arte Povera in Italy, 1964-72’ 2010
    (Curator of International Modern Art, Tate Modern, co-curator Cy Twombly)

Doctorates currently under supervision

  • Kyung An
    'Reconfiguring Korea and the West: Korean artists in Europe, 1950s-1980s’
  • Elisaveta Butakhova
    'From A-Ya to Collective Actions, Moscow Conceptualist Performance and Poetics'
  • Martina Caruso
    'Miseria, Misericordia e Mascolinità: Italian Neorealist Photography in the 1950s’
  • Jessica Eisenthal
    'Temporal Dissonance in Contemporary Israeli Photography and Video’
  • Jacopo Galimberti
    'Collective Art: Politics and Authorship in 1960s Western Europe (1957-1968)’
  • Alexandra Lazar
    ‘The Institutional History of the Soros Foundations and Their Role in the Cultural Discourse of the Successor States of Former Yugoslavia, 1991- 2001
  • Sylvia Serfafinowicz-Wesolowska
    'Documents of 1970’s Action Art and Process-oriented Production in Socialist Poland’


Online list of complete supervised research: 22 PhDs


Vist Sarah Wilson's own website: