Blog: Transforming The Courtauld’s Leon Kossoff Learning Centre with artist Jeremy Deller

5 Sep 2023

The Courtauld’s extensive Schools and Young People’s Programmes aim to increase the number of young people in the UK with access to art history, and importantly, to invite young people from all backgrounds to participate in and shape the field of Art History. 

In June 2021, The Courtauld Gallery invited Turner Prize winning artist and Courtauld alumni, Jeremy Deller, to collaborate with a group of young people who had been tasked with creating an artwork for The Courtauld’s new Leon Kossoff Learning Centre. 

The young people had all previously attended The Courtauld’s free online Art History taster workshops and Art History Summer University. 26 students from state schools and colleges across the UK took part in the initial workshops, with a core group of 10 students working on the project until its launch. 

Jeremy selected Édouard Manet’s painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère  (1882) as the starting point. The painting is known for raising more questions than it answers and can still connect with important social issues 140 years on from its creation. 

Participants were asked to come up with an artwork that would: 

  • Create a welcoming, creative and social space for Learning Centre audiences; providing a positive environment for discovery  
  • Inspire and empower audiences who do not usually connect with museums and galleries to engage with art and art history  
  • Spark conversation, encourage collaboration, analysis, reflection and experimentation 
  • Encourage connections between past and present; demonstrating the contemporary relevance and interdisciplinary nature of art history  

The young people decided to deconstruct the painting, extracting the most distinct elements – such as the acrobat’s legs and the bowl of mandarins – and commissioned different craftspeople to remake these as real objects for the space. The group also worked with perfumer Sarah McCartney to create perfumes relating to six distinct areas of the painting. Students were supported by Jeremy Deller, Curator of Paintings at The Courtauld Gallery, Karen Serres, Head of Learning, Helen Higgins and Courtauld Gallery Educators. 

Following this project, The Courtauld produced an online Learning Resource in consultation with the young people involved in the Jeremy Deller project. This was launched in 2022 asking schools and young people to engage with Manet’s A Bar at The Folies-Bergere. 

In Spring 2023, an open brief was launched, asking students aged 14-18 from across the UK to interrogate and create their own response to Manet’s painting. Reworking Manet, a display of selected submissions and student works made in collaboration with Jeremy Deller will open in The Courtauld Gallery Project Space from 18 Oct 2023 – 18 Feb 2024.  

The project with Jeremy Deller was supported by the Ampersand Foundation. The Courtauld’s Transforming the Future of Young People and Galleries Programme is supported by the Oak Foundation. The ‘Courtauld Young Volunteers’ activity strand is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

The transformation of The Courtauld was supported by £11 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 


Watch this short film which documents the project to transform the Leon Kossoff Learning Centre.