Sarah Wilson

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Sarah Wilson

Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art
Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is an art historian and curator whose interests extend from post-war and Cold War Europe and the USSR to contemporary global art. She was educated at the University of Oxford (BA English Literature) and at the Courtauld, where she took her MA and PhD degrees. She joined The Courtauld’s faculty in 1982.  She was Head of the Modern and Contemporary Section at the Courtauld from 2005-Spring 2008 and has been Head of Diploma programmes during 2014-2015.

In 2010-11, with Mellon Professor Boris Groys (New York University) Sarah Wilson initiated the 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 takes an active role in CCRAC, the Cambridge-Courtauld Russian Art Centre, with the contemporary exhibition and talks programme of Calvert 22 which reaches out to Russia and Eastern Europe, and with Pushkin House in London.    From 2013 she expanded  her ‘Global Conceptualism’ MA remit with an interest in modern and contemporary Asia.  In 2014 she was appointed to the curatorial team of the 1st Asian Biennale (China-Guangzhou).

Recognised as the  international English-language expert on Post-War European art,  including French Stalinism,  neo-Marxism and the arts,  regularly lectures and teaches in Paris – as  Professor at Paris-IV Sorbonne ( 2002-4), with Serge Lemoine  (former director of the Musée d’Orsay) when she also produced a report  on the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, commissioned by the French Minister for Research; at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (2006-7);  and at the Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin where she held a chaire d’excellence (2012-13). She has served on doctoral juries for Paris-Sorbonne 1 and IV, VIII, the Universities of Lille and Bordeaux. In 1997 she was appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres for services to French art and culture.

PARIS-CAPITALSarah’s  major publications include : Paris, Capital of the Arts,1900-1968 (Royal Academy, 2002), a substantial livre–catalogue and the standard publication on the subject, and The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations. A second volume: The Visual World of French Theory II: interventions (in preparation) will challenge the ‘Figurations‘ volume, with an emphasis on conceptual art, performance and film.

At the Courtauld, the doctoral and MA theses Sarah Wilson has supervised now constitute a unique English-language archive in the field of post-1945 European and Soviet/Russian art history, many leading to important publications.  Former students are a source of particular pride. Many now hold prominent positions in academia, museums and galleries in Britain including: Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the British Council, London galleries such as the Hauser and Wirth, Timothy Taylor and White Cube, at the Universities of London, Cambridge, and Bristol ; and beyond the UK: the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, the Phoenix Museum of Art, the French Ministry of Culture, the Kunsthalle, Bremen, and the University of Amsterdam.


  • BA History of Art Year 2: Texts and Contexts, Mallarmé to Matisse
  • Graduate Diploma History of Art: Beyond Black, Contemporary Culture in Britain Now
  • MA History of Art: Global Conceptualism, the last avant-garde or a new beginning?

PhD students


  • Jessica Eisenthal, ‘Temporal Dissonance in Contemporary Israeli Photography and Video’
  • Sarah Hegenbart, ‘Art in Action: Christoph Schlingensief’s Opera Village Africa and its Relation to Contemporary Art Practice’
  • Katarina Lichvarova, ‘Father and Son, Pivarov and Pepperstein’
  • Sooyoung Leam, ‘Lee Seung-Taek: Reconfiguring Avant-garde Art in Post-war Korea’

Recently completed

  • Hui-Kyung An, ‘Identities Contested: Contemporary Korean Art and its Exhibitions, 1961-1975’ (2015)
  • Aliya Abakayeva de Tiesenhausen, ‘Socialist Realist Orientalism? Depictions of Soviet Central Asia, 1934-1954’ (2010)
  • Rakhee Balaram, ‘Femmes Révolutionnaires: Women and art in 1970s France’ (2009)
  • Matthew Barr, ‘Michel Foucault and Visual Art, 1954-1988’ (2007)
  • Elizaveta Butakhova, ‘A-YA magazine: Soviet unofficial art between Moscow, Paris and New York, 1976-1986’ (2015)
  • Martina Caruso, ‘Miseria, Misericordia, Mascolinità: Italian Humanist Photography, 1932-1959’ (2012)
  • Nicholas Cullinan, ‘The Archeology of Knowledge: Excavating Arte Povera’ (2010)
  • Jacopo Galimberti, ‘Collective Art: Politics and Authorship in 1960s Western Europe,1957-1968’ (2012)
  • Mireya E. Lewin, ‘Antoni Tàpies and cultural identity: between the national   and the international’ (2009)
  • Hester Westley, ‘Traditions and Transmissions: St Martin’s Sculpture Department, 1960-1969’ (2007)
  • Nadim Samman, ‘Between the Gulag and the Guggenheim: (post) Soviet artists and New York in the 1980s and 1990s’ (2011)
  • Sylwia Serafinowicz-Wesołowska, ‘More than Documentation: Photography from the People’s Republic of Poland, 1965-1972’ (2015)

Research interests

  • Post war Eastern and Western European art
  • Cold War heritages including in USSR/Russia and China
  • Contemporary art and its memories
  • Academies and avant-gardes, 20th and 21st centuries

Recent publications


  • Picasso, Marx and Socialist Realism in France, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2013
  • YALEvis worldThe Visual World of French Theory: Figurations, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2010
  • Matisse, Barcelona, Ediciones Poligrafam, 2009

Essays, articles and reviews

  •  ‘Heureux hasards conceptuels: Jacques Monory en Angleterre’, Jacques Monory, Paris, Fonds Leclerc, 2015, pp. 107-111
  • ‘Post-colonial Rococo: Yinka Shonibare MBE plays Fragonard’, in Melissa Hyde, Katie Scott eds. Rococo Echo: Art, Theory and Historiography, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, 2014, pp. 313-328
  • Des meilleurs ennemis au “Jardin d’amour”:, Art et artistes à Paris et à Londres, Nos meilleurs ennemis : L’entente culturelle franco-britannique revisitée .Diana Cooper-Richet and Michel Rapoport eds., Paris, Atlande, pp. 81-99
  • ‘Klossowski our Contemporary’, foreword to Hervé Castanet, ‘Pierre Klossowski. The Pantomime of Spirits’, J.B.Bullen ed., Cultural Interactions. Studies in the Relationship between the Arts, vol. 22, 2014, pp. ix-xxv.
  • ‘Tears, Tirs, Ricochets’, Camille Morineau ed., Niki de Saint Phalle, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, pp. 92-101, 359-360
  • ‘Judit Reigl, of signs, of men and of angels, Julia Fabéni ed., Judit Reigl, Budapest, Ludwig Museum, pp. 68-93
  • ‘A very great sculptor: Germaine Richier’, Germaine Richier, New York, Dominique Lévy, Galerie Perrotin, pp. 10-17
  • ‘“Délit de témoignage”: André Fougeron à travers un siècle’, in Bruno Gaudichon ed., André Fougeron. 1913-1998. Voilà qui fait problème vrai, Roubaix, La Piscine / Montreuil, Gourcoff Gradenigo, pp. 25-59
  • ‘Loyalty and Blood. Picasso’s FBI File’, in Jonathan Harris and Richard Koeck eds., Picasso and the Politics of Visual Representation :War and Peace in the era of Cold War and since, Liverpool University Press, Tate Livepool Critical Forum, 2013,  pp. 110-124
  • ‘Bergson before Deleuze: how to read informel painting, Charlotte de Mille and John Mullarky eds., Bergson and the Art of Immanence: Painting, Photography, Film, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2013, pp.80-93
  • ‘Lyotard, Monory: Postmodern Romantics’ (in Herman Parret ed. Jean-François Lyotard, Writing on Contemporary Art and Artists vol VI, L’assassinat de l’expérience par la peintureMonory / The Assassination of Experience by Painting – Monory, Leuven, University of Leuven Press (updated version, bilingual), pp. 196-253
  • ‘Art, Artefact and Empire Thirty Glorious years in France’, Oxford Art Journal, volume 36, issue 2, 2013, pp. 310-312 (book review)
  • ‘The Expanded Seam; the Song of the Shirt’, Pip Culbert, Galerie Kamila Regent, Saignon-en-Luberon, 2012
  • ‘Comintern spin doctor’ Willi Münzenberg, artiste en révolution, 1889-1940, 2008, English Historical Review, vol. CXXVII , 526, June 2012, pp. 662-668
  • ‘French socialist realism,1945-1970’, in Matthew Bown, Matteo Lafranconi eds., Socialist Realisms. Soviet Painting 1920-1970, Milan, Skira, 2012, pp. 247-253
  • ‘Moscow Romantic exceptionalism : the suspension of disbelief’, Boris Groys ed., Moscow Symposium, Conceptualism revisited, e-flux journal, New York, Sternberg Press,  pp.102-123
  • ‘Silver Scales, Silver Ink, Quicksilver Traces: Lucia Joyce’; ‘Tilly Losch, reaching for intersubjective frontiers’ (with Adrien Sina) in Sina ed., Feminine Futures Performance Dance War Politics and Eroticism, Dijon, Les Presses du Réel, 2011, pp. 406-415, 416-418.

Recent/major grants

  • 2012-2013 Marie Curie Actions – RBUCE-UP, Chaire d’excellence, Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin, ‘Globalisation before Globalisation: avant-gardes, academies, revolutions’

Other professional activities

  • Curator, fifth  Guangzhou Triennale/ first Asia Biennale GDMoA (China) 2015
  • Member of Executive committee, AICA (International Association of Art Critics, British branch)
  • Member of Advisory Board, Department of Art History, New European University, Saint Petersburg.
  • Metamatic Research Initiative, Amsterdam

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