Alexandra Gerstein studied art history and museum studies at the École du Louvre, Paris and at The Courtauld (MA 1995, PhD 2003), where her research focused late 19th and early 20th century Beaux-Arts architecture and on the architectural sculpture of the Edwardian Baroque Revival. Before joining The Courtauld, she worked at the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal.
Alexandra has responsibility for the collection of sculpture and decorative arts, which counts over 500 objects spanning a wide geography and a variety of media and technique, dating from the medieval period to the early 20th century. She is also the lead curator for provenance research with respect to the Nazi period, and for restitution claims, and sits on the National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) Spoliation Working Group, which coordinates research in UK museums.
Since 2010 she has overseen a programme of research and conservation of the areas of strength of the collection, which has led to publications and exhibitions and has raised the profile of this less well known part of the collection. The first in the series of complete catalogues was Medieval and Later Ivories in The Courtauld Gallery, written by John Lowden (Paul Holberton Press, 2013). This will be followed by Renaissance and Later Ceramics in The Courtauld Gallery, written by Elisa Sani (Paul Holberton Press, forthcoming 2022). The next cataloguing project will focus on the Courtauld Gallery’s collection of Islamic metalwork.
For the past three years Alexandra has been involved in the major refurbishment project known as Courtauld Connects (from autumn 2018 to autumn 2021). During this period, she curated a touring display, Precious and Rare: Islamic metalwork from the Courtauld Gallery, which travelled to four museums in the UK. The display, which was a partnership with the Specialist Subject Network (SSN) in Islamic art and material culture and was supported by Art Fund, was launched at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro in autumn 2018, travelling subsequently to Cartwright Hall in Bradford and the Science History Museum in Oxford, and finally to the Holburne Museum in Bath in the summer of 2021. During this period too, Alexandra published essays on the Courtauld family for The Courtauld’s loan exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris (A Vision for Impressionism, 2019).
Current and recent exhibitions and projects
Prior to the Gallery’s closure for refurbishment, she curated the exhibitions Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops, 1913-1919 (2009) and Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement (2016), which was restaged in an expanded form at the Musée Rodin in Paris (Rodin et la danse, 2018), and she co-curated Court and Craft: A masterpiece from Northern Iraq (2013), as well as a display on the Thomson collection of ivories in 2008. She co-curated two exhibitions in collaboration with the State Hermitage Museum, on porcelain from Revolutionary Russia (Circling the Square: Avant-garde Porcelain from Revolutionary Russia, 2007) and on Empress Josephine and the arts (France in Russia: Empress Josephine’s Malmaison Collection, 2008).
In 2012 Alexandra established a focused interdisciplinary programme of internships, called ‘Illuminating Objects’. The programme, which is generously supported by McQueens Flowers, offers significant pre-professional experience to postgraduates from a range of disciplines, presenting visitors with innovative displays of objects in the galleries and in-depth content online. Illuminating Objects interns have come to us from the fields of anthropology, fashion, product design and engineering, graphic design, theology, science communication and comparative literature, and forthcoming internships are being recruited from the fields of mental health including arts psychotherapy. Our partner institutions thus far are Central Saint Martins, Goldsmiths, the Royal College of Art (RCA), the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), King’s College London, the University of Kent, Canterbury, Imperial College London and University College London.
A series of inter-university conservation schemes was initiated several years ago to address The Courtauld’s object conservation needs whilst at the same time provide invaluable experience for postgraduate students to work with important museum collections. A successful partnership has been developed over the years with West Dean College of Arts and Conservation (University of Sussex), in ceramics and clocks, and previously with furniture conservation students at Bucks New University. The latter included the full documentation and reconstruction of Sir William Chambers’s impressive Charlemont Medal Cabinet of 1767-68, leading to a study day on the history of its making and its future display (2015).
Alongside colleagues from the academic faculty, Alexandra convenes the Sculptural Processes Group (SPG), which she set up in 2007 to facilitate exchanges between academics, curators, practitioners, artists, students and conservators interested in questions of sculptural practice. Each year the Sculptural Processes Group explores specific themes relating to the making of sculpture, through visits, artist talks and research seminars. Its activities are supported by McQueens Flowers.