Conference report: ‚Curating Art History: dialogues between museum professionals and academics‘

7th-8th May 2014, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham. Home to a fantastic fine art collection and Europe's most significant collection of Byzantine coins, as well as a gorgeous example of Art Deco interior design.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham. Home to a fantastic fine art collection and Europe’s most significant collection of Byzantine coins, as well as a gorgeous example of Art Deco interior design.

Homepage of the Open Access, peer-reviewed Journal of Art Historiography (University of Birmingham)

Homepage of the Open Access, peer-reviewed Journal of Art Historiography (University of Birmingham)

Annual colloquium of the department of Art History, Film and Visual Studies and the Journal of Art Historiography

Organisers: Lauren Dudley, Jamie Edwards, Faith Trend and Erin Shakespeare.

This seems in many ways my ideal first contribution to reports and reviews for the ‘Bilderfahrzeuge’ blog. The conference took place a couple of weeks into the new project here but also took me back to the familiar haunts the University of Birmingham, where I did my MA and PhD studies. The conference was kindly hosted by the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, an art and numismatic collection which maintains close links with academic research and teaching. It was also where for a short period in 2013 I worked as curator of the numismatic exhibition, ‘Faith and Fortune: visualizing the divine on Byzantine and early Islamic coinage’, alongside my friend and colleague, Daniel Reynolds. The exhibition is open until January 2015 so if you are in the Midlands, take a look!

Title banner for Faith and Fortune, showing at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts until January 2015

Faith and Fortune will now be on display until January 2015

We were invited to speak at the ‘Curating Art History’ conference as a result of this exhibition, which in addition to taking place at the Barber Institute, has attracted attention in the world of numismatics for its approach to displaying and interpreting coins (and here). Dan and I presented together on ‘Exhibiting coins as economic artefacts’. Both of us come from backgrounds in history and archaeology, rather than art history (though we have both come to use art historical approaches and visual evidence heavily). ‘Faith and Fortune’ was also our first curatorial experience so we were delighted to discover that many of the themes of our paper (such as how much and what context to provide for objects) were at the forefront of many other papers and debates.

Image of Patricia Piccinini's 'The Welcome Guest' (2011), displayed as part of the 'Post-humanist desire' exhibition in Taipei, 2014

Patricia Piccinini’s ‚The Welcome Guest‘ (2011), displayed as part of the ‚Post-humanist desire‘ exhibition in Taipei, 2014

The programme included a diverse range of papers from ‘Post-humanist desire’ and the problems of curating impermanent art to discussions of new projects presenting, curating and engaging with art. The ‘Art Detective’ project, for example, has currently made freely available online digitized copies of over 200,000 paintings from collections across Britain. It also hosts discussions of paintings involving academics, professionals and members of the public. It was developed in response to the shrinking number of professional art historians available to work with public and museum collections. In this respect it echoed the interests of a project with which I have become involved through ‘Faith and Fortune’, the Money and Medals Network, which seeks to address the similar shortfall of professional expertise in numismatics.

Homepage of the the Money and Medals Network, which provides a space for sharing resources and expertise in curating, displaying and studying collections of coins, medals and things like coins (tokens, punches, ticket machines...)

The Money and Medals Network provides a space for sharing resources and expertise in curating, displaying and studying collections of coins and medals

Experiments with format included a panel discussion on the topic of the AHRC Iconoclasms Network and associated exhibition, ‘Art Under Attack: histories of British Iconoclasm’ at Tate Britain from 2nd October 2013 to 5th January 2014. Despite the range of subjects, clear organization into themed panels gave the conference coherence and resulted in lively discussions throughout. Perhaps the most challenging issue discussed was that of the keynote address and first panel, on ‘Ethnography and curating native art’, which could have benefitted from more explicit definitions or discussions of the terms involved. Nevertheless, it raised important debates and presented the work of University of Birmingham students who had the wonderful opportunity to work with the National Portrait Gallery on the exhibition ‘George Catlin: American Indian Portraits’ (7th March-23rd June 2013) to provide interpretation for visitors and research the paintings and historical context of the artist.

Image from the exhibition of works by George Catlin at the National Prtrait Gallery

For me the conference provided an opportunity to see friends and colleagues at Birmingham and to share news about the start of this project and to reflect on the things I carry into it from my experiences at Birmingham. Curating ‘Faith and Fortune’ in particular, has deeply impacted upon my response to visual sources and my thoughts about the role of academic research and public engagement in ways which I look forward to developing here in London. It also generated links to projects I was not previously aware of and there is a possibility that some of the papers will end up in print. If they do I hope that, like this conference, they will constitute a fascinating contribution to ongoing discussions about display as part of the research process and the relationship between academic and public space.


Dieser Eintrag wurde veröffentlicht in Bulletin von Rebecca Darley. Permanenter Link des Eintrags.

Über Rebecca Darley

I am a Research Associate with the project '"Bilderfahrzeuge" - Aby Warburg's Legacy and the Future of Iconology', based at the Warburg Institute (London). My research focuses on long-distance networks of contact in the pre-modern world, and in particular the movement of coins of the Byzantine Empire beyond imperial frontiers.

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