The Courtauld Second Year Modern and Contemporary PhD Symposium

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Open to all, free admission

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London

Thu 20 May, 2021

The Courtauld Second Year Modern and Contemporary PhD Symposium provides an opportunity for second-year doctoral students to present elements of their research to their peers and the public. The forum will consist of four speakers split into two panels. Reflective of the Courtauld’s ever-growing interest in non-Anglophone Art History research, the four panellists represent a diverse approach to art history, theory and politics within their areas of study. The first panel will look at the Havana Biennial and the Krakow International Graphic Art Biennial. Whilst Jasmine Chohan discusses how Cuban cultural institutions have adopted and used relational aesthetics as a framework for the Havana Biennial, Wiktor Komorowski will analyse the conversion of the Krakow Graphic Art Biennial from a national to an international event. The second panel will cover art from the Soviet Union. Aiming to expose the prevalence of a traditionalist, predominantly figurative aesthetic in Soviet book aesthetics during the 1920s and 30s, Sofia Gurevich will look at the Fiera Internazionale del Libro in Florence. Denis Stolyarov will then examine the narrative that was created around Soviet art and culture in the late 80s and 90s, specifically focusing on the third annual exhibition of the Club of Avant-gardists held in 1989 and entitled Perspectives of Conceptualism and The Green Show held at Exit Art in New York in 1989-1990.


Thursday 18 May 2017

10.00 – 10.15 Welcome and Introductory Remarks: Dr. Wenny Teo.

10.15 – 11.15 SESSION 1 – Chaired by Nada Fatima Raza.

Jasmine Chohan: Revising the Relational in the 12th Bienal de la Habana.

Wiktor Komorowski: Cooperation. Competition. Conflict?: Dreams of Agon and the Krakow’s International Graphic Art Biennial of 1966.

11.15 – 12.15 SESSION 2 – Chaired by Jonathan Vernon.

Sofia Gurevich: The 1922 Fiera Internazionale del Libro in Florence: book art at the forefront of early Soviet cultural diplomacy. 

Denis Stolyarov: Longing for History: the glitter of a myth.

12.15 – 13.00 LUNCH

Jasmine Chohan

Revising the Relational in the 12th Bienal de la Habana.

Looking specifically at two works from the 12th Bienal de la Habana, Jeanno Gaussi’s Dreams on Wheels and Arles del Río’s Resaca, the paper will analyse how the Cuban public’s socio-political standing in the country was played out within the biennial space with a focus on Relational Aesthetics.

Established in 1984, the Bienal de la Habana was founded in an attempt to provide a formerly lacking presence for Third World art and culture in a Western-controlled and shaped art scene. The idea to stage a biennial was born out of an attempt to solidify Cuba’s position as a leader of the Third World, thus the focus was solely on Third World art.

The 12th edition of the Bienal de la Habana titled Entre La Idea y La Experiencia, translating to Between the Idea and the Experience, took place in May and June 2015. Biennials have been widely described as political or politicised exhibitions models; the works that will be presented in this essay will be read in light of such descriptions. The focus of the paper will be on the analysis of why Cuban cultural institutions embraced Relational Aesthetics as the framework for their international art event and how the theory played out in practice.

Jasmine Chohan is a second-year PhD candidate studying at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Having completed her BA at the Courtauld in 2012 and MA in 2013, Jasmine began her PhD in 2015 studying with Professor Julian Stallabrass, focusing on contemporary Cuban art. Jasmine first studied Cuban art at the San Alejandro School of Fine Arts in Havana in 2009 and later completed a six-month Art History course at the University of Havana in 2015. Jasmine’s research is centred on the Bienal de la Habana, looking specifically at the role of collateral events held during the Bienal from the first edition in 1984 to the most recent 12th edition in 2015.

Wiktor Komorowski

Cooperation. Competition. Conflict?: Dreams of Agon and the Krakow’s International Graphic Art Biennial of 1966.

The beginning of the history of Krakow’s exhibition of graphic arts can be tracked back to 1960 when a group of academics and students led by Witold Skulicz, Mieczysław Wejman, Konrad Srzednicki and Andrzej Jurkiewicz established the first nationwide contest for Polish printmakers. This competition was born from an organic cooperation within a small network of enthusiasts associated with the Department of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Art in Krakow, who succeeded in maintaining a high level of independence from the state authorities. After three editions of the nationwide exhibition the well-connected circle of printmakers took a decision to approach the authorities with a concept to expand the scope of the original exhibition and invite artists from the socialist as well as the capitalist states. Such an idea laid on a fertile ground as the mid-1960s in Polish People’s Republic saw a rise of dissatisfaction with the unfulfilled promises of the cultural Thaw of 1956. The authorities were desperately looking for possible ways to install soft power and keep the society afloat. Hence, the idea to convert a national exhibition of prints into an international event did not lead to an open conflict between the expectations of the state authorities to promote the hard-line socialism and the anticipation of the local circles of printmakers striving for emancipation. This paper addresses this utopian coexistence of interests and discusses its origins in the context of the prints submitted to the first editions of Krakow’s International Biennial of Graphic Arts.

Wiktor Komorowski is a second-year History of Art PhD student at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. He received his Bachelor’s degree in History of Art and Portuguese from the University of Manchester and his Master’s degree in History of Art from The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. His research focuses on the exhibitions of graphic art in Eastern Europe and the relationship between the art world and the Cold War politics. He is particularly interested in the curatorial strategies developed to negotiate power split in the countries under authoritarian rule. Wiktor’s project is supervised by Dr Klara Kemp-Welch.

Sofia Gurevich

The 1922 Fiera Internazionale del Libro in Florence: book art at the forefront of early Soviet cultural diplomacy.

Russian Constructivism has continuously enjoyed the status of being largely representative of the 1920s—1930s Soviet book aesthetic within Western historiography. The aim of my research is to expose the prevalence of a traditionalist, predominantly figurative aesthetic during the same historical period, partially exemplified by the work of the pre-revolutionary World of Art group and its disciples. One of the ways this can be explored is through the international activity of the State Publishing House (Gosizdat), which, since its foundation in 1919, became responsible for the majority of Soviet book production. In the context of the New Economic Policy (NEP), there also existed a number of private publishers, who possessed full freedom of editorship and artists’ involvement. The same artists were frequently involved in private and state commissions, and in many cases private publications were the ones selected by the state to be ‘submitted to Europe’s approval’ at the various international displays in which Soviet Russia participated over the course of the 1920s. Participation in exhibitions such as the 1922 Fiera Internazionale del Libro in Florence allowed the Soviet state to establish itself as a cultured nation on a par with Western Europe. This was essential at the time when Soviet Russia was not yet officially recognised by any of fellow participating countries. Not only did it assist the Soviet state in fighting the myth of Bolshevik Russia as a barbaric nation; but, equally, it acted as hard proof of its success, in contrast to that of tsarist Russia, in fighting illiteracy and creating books that were simultaneously democratic and beautiful, both for the West and the White émigré community.

Sofia is a collaborative PhD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art and Tate Modern. She received her Graduate Diploma and MA from the Courtauld in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Her PhD research, supervised by Dr Klara Kemp-Welch (Courtauld) and Dr Matthew Gale (Tate Modern), is on Soviet book design of the 1920s–1930s, with a focus on local and international activity of major Soviet publishing houses and educational centres prominent during the period. Sofia is simultaneously assisting the curatorial team at Tate with research for the upcoming ‘Red Star over Russia’ exhibition at Tate Modern, scheduled for November 2017. Before receiving her MA, she worked as a Junior Russian Art Cataloguer at a London-based auction house.

Denis Stolyarov

Longing for History: the glitter of a myth.

In the end of the 1980s Soviet intellectuals faced the necessity to construct a certain narrative about artistic activities of the previous decades. Acute interest towards Soviet art both inside the country and abroad resulted in the necessity to look at even recent artistic endeavours within the broad context of art-historical progress. While different attempts to historicise art practices were undertaken, several strategies can be distinguished. One tried to focus on a certain network of individuals and the tradition of their communication. Another strived to define a broader framework in which Soviet unofficial art could be analysed. 

Two particular cases are going to be compared. The third annual exhibition of the Club of Avant-gardists held in 1989 and entitled Perspectives of Conceptualism took place at a local exhibition hall in Moscow, later travelled to Rhode Island and Hawaii universities and was finally shown at PS1 in New York. Another exhibition entitled The Green Show was held at Exit Art in New York in the late 1989 – early 1990. It was curated by Margarita Tupitsyn, who came up with an overarching theoretical framework, based on the perception of colour in the course of the Soviet culture.

Both these exhibitions reveal the role of the artists as external witnesses of the on-going changes. Their ability to conceptualise and visually fixate ideologically charged reality resulted in the emergence of curious artefacts that could in turn be analysed by the external viewer: either a representative of the foreign audience, or a public intellectual, embodied in the figure of the curator.

Denis Stolyarov is a PhD candidate at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He received his BA in History from the Moscow State University and later received an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art, studying at the course ‘Global Conceptualism: The last avant-garde or a new beginning?’, supervised by professor Sarah Wilson. He specialises in the history of art in Russia during and after Perestroika, analysing the transformations that took place during the last years of Soviet history as well as during the period of ‘wild’ capitalism intrinsic to the emerging post-Soviet reality.