2018 Sackler Lecture Series – ‘1968’

The 2018 Sackler Lecture Series marks the 50th anniversary of 1968, a seismic year of social and political upheaval. If in Western Europe and North America, 1968 tends to be treated as synonymous with the events of May in Paris and their powerful ripple effect, this series acknowledges the diversity of experiences and artistic practices around the world that same year. In Argentina, a vanguard of artists collaborated with trade unions to put political intervention at the heart of their aesthetic programme, culminating in a landmark exhibition of solidarity with the rural poor of Tucumán. In the Eastern Bloc, all eyes were on the stunning reforms underway as part of the so-called Prague Spring. Briefly promising to deliver ‘socialism with a human face’, these were crushed by the Warsaw Pact invasion of 21 August. Our speakers – Pierre Buraglio, David Crowley, Darby English, Briony Fer, Joan Kee and Ana Longoni – will open up the art historical arena of ‘1968’ from an array of cultural, formal and geographical perspectives.

A history of detail – or thinking small

15th January 2018 

Professor Briony Fer – UCL

This talk addresses the crisis of scale in contemporary criticism. Taking a cue from Foucault’s remark that he wanted to write a History of Detail – a project that could be seen to emerge in part as response to the events of 1968 but which he never executed – I ask what it might involve now to think from the vantage point of the marginal incident. The focus is the artist Vija Celmins, but a historiography of detail is also discussed from Foucault through Proust and others.

Briony Fer is Professor of History of Art. She graduated from Sussex University with BA Hons in History of Art (major) with French (minor) in 1979. She then went on to the Department of History of History and Theory of Art at Essex University where her doctoral research on the Russian and French avant-gardes was supervised by Professor Dawn Ades and Professor Michael Podro. She was awarded her PhD in 1988.

In 1980 she joined the History of Art Department at the Open University as a Lecturer working on groundbreaking courses there and publishing essays in the Modernity and Modernism textbooks, published jointly by the Open University and Yale University Press in 1993.

She joined University College in 1990 and was made a Reader in 1997 and Professor in 2005. She has published extensively on 20th century and contemporary art

The King’s Two Bodies

29th January 2018 

Professor Darby English – University of Chicago

‘The King’s Two Bodies’ considers a cast-metal replica of the building where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April 1968. An object intended for manual as much as visual apprehension, the replica compels a return to a discrete past moment as though this were the prologue to a set of effects very different to the ones handed us. Rather dull and somewhat leaden, the replica is at the same time something full and yet not fully accomplished, something that promotes more heterodox narratives of democratic culture without preempting any particular ones. This talk traces some of the paradoxes stemming from an object that trains the gaze on the juncture where a body met a bullet that would fatally wound it—when that’s not at all what one is meant to see.

Darby English is the Carl Darling Buck Professor at the University of Chicago, where he teaches courses in modern and contemporary art and cultural studies. He is the author of How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (MIT, 2007), 1971: A Year in the Life of Color (Chicago, 2016), and To Describe a Life: Essays at the Intersection of Art and Race Terror (Yale, forthcoming autumn 2018).

The Centre for American Art Seminar Series brings leading speakers in the field to The Courtauld to present their research with the aim of showcasing the most exciting work in American Art today. The series invites three speakers in the autumn and spring terms each year.

Noise and Silence in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest c.1968 

19th February 2018 

Professor David Crowley – National College of Art and Design, Dublin

In 1968 Hungarian artist Tamás Szentjóby painted bands of sulphur on the sides of a common brick to approximate the dials and switches of a portable radio.  He had been inspired by stories of Czechoslovak teenagers diverting the attention of the Warsaw Pact forces that occupied the country in August 1968 by carrying bricks wrapped in newspaper pressed to their ears as if they were transistor radios.

Silent, Szentjóby’s radio invited the listener to think about what could not be heard on state radio. In this talk, David Crowley accepts this invitation by exploring the art of noise of Eastern Europe in the years before and after 1968 including the experimental radio programmes created in Warsaw and Brno by composers and artists inspired by John Cage; the sounds of Aktual, the proto-punk group formed by Fluxus artist Milan Knížák in 1967, and The Primitives, the Czech beat group whose immersive performances were designed by artist Zorka Ságlová; and the investigations of noise conducted by Krzysztof Wodiczko in a series of ‘instruments’ and performances in Warsaw.

David Crowley teaches at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. His books include Warsaw (2003) and three volumes co-edited with Susan Reid, Socialism and Style. Material Culture in Post-war Eastern Europe (2000); Socialist Spaces. Sites of Everyday Life in the Eastern Bloc (2003); and Pleasures in Socialism: Leisure and Luxury in the Eastern Bloc (2010).  Crowley also curates exhibitions including ‘Cold War Modern’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2008–9 (with Jane Pavitt), ‘Sounding the Body Electric. Experiments in Art and Music in Eastern Europe’ at Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź, 2012 and Calvert 22, London, 2013, and ‘Notes from Underground. Art and Alternative Music in Eastern Europe 1968-1994’ at Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź, 2018 and Akademie der Kunst, Berlin, 2018 (both with Daniel Muzyczuk).

Vulnerability and Real Time in the Two Koreas 

9th March 2018 

Professor Joan Kee – University of Michigan

1968 opened literally with a bang when North Korean commandos nearly succeeded in assassinating S. Korean president Park Chung-hee. Two days later, North Korea captured a U.S. Navy intelligence vessel, an incident that brought the world closer to nuclear war than it had come since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Acute brinkmanship brought unprecedented pressure to bear on the concept of nation, a tension especially palpable in some of the most memorable images produced in both Koreas. The production of liminal space occupied central aesthetic ground in the built and media environments. In North Korea, masculinist displays of military and industrial strength common to state-mandated Socialist Realist painting sometimes yielded to abrupt juxtapositions between nature and industry that betrayed uncertainty or even alienation from the dream of a worker’s paradise. In South Korea, where photography was shaped around the twinning of economic development with state-promoted “tradition,” a new generation of photographers conveyed profound skepticism towards South Korean state enterprise. Requiring a deeper and more singular investment from audiences than mere acknowledgment or even sympathy, such works turned on vulnerability as the most significant lens through which to consider the nation in real, rather than ideal, time.

Joan Kee is Associate Professor in the History of Art at the University of Michigan. The author of Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method (2013) and Models of Integrity: Art and Law in Post-Sixties America (2019), she co-edited To Scale (2015) and a special issue of Third Text on contemporary art in Southeast Asia. A contributing editor to Artforum, Kee’s other writing has appeared in Art HistoryArt JournalLaw and LiteratureAmerican ArtJournal of Law, Culture and the Humanities, and Tate Papers among other venues. Current projects include a discussion of emoji as a visual literacy argument, the emergence of a “greater” Southeast Asia through the lens of Minimalism and Afro-Asian collaborations in postwar America.

Vanguard and Revolution: The ’68 Radicalization in the Argentinian Avant-garde

12th March 2018 (unfortunately this event was cancelled due to ongoing UCU industrial action) 

Professor Ana Longoni – Universidad de Buenos Aires

Ana Longoni is a writer, researcher of CONICET and professor in Universidad de Buenos Aires. Since a short time, she is Director of Public Activities in the Reina Sofía Museum (Madrid). She received a B.A. in Literature and a Ph.D. in Arts from the Universidad de Buenos Aires, where she currently lectures in grade and postgrade courses. She often lectures as invited professor in other universities. Her field of research is centered on the crossroads between art and politics in Latin America since the sixties. She has published, alone or in collaboration, among other works: Del Di Tella a Tucumán Arde (From the Di Tella Institute to Tucumán Arde) (Buenos Aires, El cielo por asalto, 2000; and Eudeba, 2008), Traiciones (Treasons) (Buenos Aires, Norma, 2007), El Siluetazo (The Silhouettes) (Buenos Aires, Adriana Hidalgo, 2008), Roberto Jacoby. El deseo nace del derrumbe(Desire Rises from Collapse) (Barcelona, La Central, 2011), Leandro Katz (Buenos Aires, Fundación Espigas, 2013) and Vanguardia y revolución (Avant-garde and Revolution) (Buenos Aires, Ariel, 2014). As a playwright, she wrote “La Chira” (2003) and “Árboles” (2006).

In her role as curator, she coordinated the exhibitions “Desire Rises from Collapse” (2011), “Losing the Human Form” (2012), both at the Reina Sofía Museum (Madrid), and “With provocations by Juan Carlos Uviedo” (2015) and “Oscar Masotta: Theory as action” (2017) in MUAC (México).

She is also an active member, since its foundation in 2007, of the Red Conceptualismos del Sur (Southern Conceptualisms Network).