Carla Kessler

PhD candidate

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: Professor Julian Stallabrass
Advisor: Professor Sarah Wilson

I am writing a history of audience experience in installation and performance art since the 1970s. Though experience is core to such work, it is difficult to archive and largely absent from the art historical record. The goal of this project is to improve how we document and historicise four experience-based artworks that represent a range of sensory and political concerns over the course of contemporary art history, from Walter De Maria’s room-sized installations on view in New York since the 1970s to a durational performance conceived by Ragnar Kjartansson and participants across the world.

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

  • 2022: Teaching Assistant, Foundations of Art History (BA1/Graduate Diploma)
  • 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