Carla Kessler

PhD candidate; Associate Lecturer

Carla Kessler is a PhD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she researches modern and contemporary art. Previously she worked in audience research and strategic planning for museums including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art.

Thesis: The Politics and Aesthetics of Experiential Art
Funded by the Courtauld Scholarship
Supervisor: Dr. Lucy Bradnock
Advisor: Professor Sarah Wilson

I am writing a history of audience experience in four artworks from the 1970s to today.

Though audience experience is core to installation and performance art, it is difficult to document, and so, remains largely absent from the art historical record. The goal of this project is to better archive and historicise such artworks, through retroactive fieldwork, oral history interviews, and social media analysis. Case studies represent a range of sensory and political concerns, including Walter De Maria’s large-scale installations on view in New York since the 1970s and a recent durational performance conceived by Ragnar Kjartansson and participants from Detroit to Reykjavík.

Research Interests
Modern and contemporary art; spectatorship throughout history; live and performance art; film, photography, and new media; socially engaged art; taste and class.


  • PhD, The Courtauld Institute of Art (expected 2023)
  • MA with Distinction, History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art (2020)
  • BS, Theatre and History, Northwestern University (2008)

University and Museum Work

  • 2023: Assistant Lecturer and Course Designer, BA2: Art History and Social Justice
  • 2022-2023: Teaching Assistant, BA2: Frameworks for Interpretation
  • 2022: Teaching Assistant, BA1: Foundations of Art History
  • 2021-2022: Course design for the Department of Art History at The University of Pennsylvania (MA course title: ‘The Future of Arts Audiences‘)
  • 2020-2021: Online Learning Support Officer, The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • 2015-2019: Course design and guest lecturer, Stanford University (BA course title: ‘Arts Organisations and the Changing Cultural Audience‘)
  • 2015-2019: Strategist, LaPlaca Cohen (strategic planning and audience research clients included the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago)
  • 2008-2014: Public Affairs Liaison and Visitor Experience Research Manager, The Art Institute of Chicago

Lectures & Publications