Autumn Art Lectures 2017: The Art of Revolutions

The concepts of ‘art’ and ‘revolution’ intersect in many and various ways. This year’s Autumn Art Lecture Series explores some of them.

It does this in the year of the anniversary of one of the world’s most profound revolutions, that of Russia in 1917 - our lecture on this, given by Professor John Milner the curator of the Royal Academy exhibition (2017), takes place on its exact anniversary, according to the Gregorian calendar 7 November (25 October Julian).

Other lectures address art and the Chinese cultural revolution (Professor Robert Bickers), the visual culture of the French revolution (Dr Valerie Mainz), and more diverse revolutionary topics such as the representational revolution of the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art (at Tate Britain 5 April – October 1st 2017), given by its curator Clare Barlow; and the revolution in the presentation of art on television represented by Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation in 1969, given by the presenter of the new series Civilisations David Olusoga.

We start with the American artist Molly Crabapple talking about the role of contemporary art as weapon of protest and revolution.


The art of revolution and protest

Molly Crabapple, artist, journalist and writer

17 Oct

Artist, journalist and writer Molly Crabapple has reported from and made art about some of the most war-torn areas of the world – including Guantanamo Bay, Abu Dhabi's migrant labour camps, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2012, her posters for Occupy Wall Street were used widely – some went viral – and her apartment became an unofficial salon for artists making work about the protest.

In 2013, her exhibition Shell Game, a series of large-scale paintings about the revolutions of 2011, led to her being called ‘an emblem of the way that art could break out of the gilded gallery’. Her art was used in the Writers Resist rally on January 15 2017 to mark Donald Trump’s inauguration. For Crabapple, drawing is ‘exposure, confrontation, or reckoning. Every line a weapon’. She talks about her work and the art of protest and revolution. 

Molly Crabapple  is an artist, journalist and author of the highly praised memoir, Drawing Blood. Called ‘An emblem of the way art can break out of the gilded gallery’ by the New Republic, she has drawn in and reported from Guantanamo Bay, Abu Dhabi's migrant labour camps, and in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and Iraqi Kurdistan. In the Occupy Wall Street protests, she started doing protest posters. In doing these, she said, 'I found my voice’; she was called by author Matt Taibbi 'Occupy's greatest artist’ and her work went viral. Brothers of the Gun, her illustrated collaboration with Syrian war journalist Marwan Hisham, will be published in 2018. She is a contributing editor for VICE and has written for publications including The New York Times, Paris Review and Vanity Fair. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Follow her on Twitter @MollyCrabapple.

Civilisation and Civilisations: the revolutions of art in television 

David Olusoga, historian, broadcaster and film-maker

24 Oct

The 1969 TV series Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark was a landmark event in broadcasting of the visual arts and was seen by millions of people around the world in over 60 countries. It remains influential today. For some the series’ focus on the civilisation of the art, architecture and philosophy of Western Europe since the Dark Ages made it Eurocentric, with little discussion of African works of art. But there’s no question that it could change lives: Clark was deeply moved to discover that people on the verge of suicide had recovered after watching Civilisation. It changed Clark’s life, too – he went from being a respected academic to facing huge and affectionate public attention.

At an early public screening of one of the programmes he received loud applause and cheers and was so moved that he wept in a nearby lavatory for fifteen minutes. What made it such an important series? And how should it be seen now, especially in terms of how much television – and, most importantly – our view of civilisation has changed so much? Historian and broadcaster David Olusoga – one of the presenters on the new series Civilisations – looks at art on television, the meaning of civilisation and whether art on television can still help change lives.

David Olusoga is a historian, broadcaster and film-maker. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, he studied history and journalism before joining the BBC. He is an award-winning documentary maker and is also co-author of The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and The Colonial Roots of Nazism, The World’s War and a contributor to The Oxford Companion to Black British History. His books and television programmes have explored the themes of empire, military-history, race, slavery and contemporary culture in the UK and USA. His latest book is Black and British: A Forgotten History. Follow him on Twitter @DavidOlusoga

Queer British Art, 1861-1967

Clare Barlow, curator of the exhibition ‘Queer British Art, 1861-1967’

31 Oct

What is queer art?  An object through which an artist explores their own identity or an object that is seen as queer by an audience?  How did artists and collectors use art to express their sexualities and gender identities at a time when terms such as ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, and ‘trans’ weren’t widely recognised and sex between men was against the law?  This talk will focus on the period between the end of the death penalty for bugger in 1861 and the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, a period which saw radical change in society, the arts and understandings of the self.

Clare Barlow was curator of the exhibition ‘Queer British Art, 1861-1967’, Tate Britain, 5 April-1 October 2017.  Featuring works relating to diverse gender identities and sexualities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+), the show marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England.  Clare has a longstanding research interest in the relationship between art, society, sexuality and gender.  She has been recently appointed Project Curator for the Medicine Now galleries at the Wellcome Collection.

Art on the edge of extinction in Revolutionary Russia  

Professor John Milner, curator of the major exhibition Revolution: Russia Art 1917-32

7 Nov

In 1917 the Russian Revolution seized private collections, shut galleries, and prevented artists from meeting wealthy patrons. But in the dictatorship of the proletariat workers would own nothing individually - but everything collectively. The radical avant-garde rapidly recognised in the Bolshevik State their only source of funding. The profusion of public decorations that this produced was spectacular, in posters, parades, theatre, dance, film, sport and exhibitions, all collective in production, political in purpose, and all public.

John Milner curated the major exhibition Revolution: Russian Art 1917-32 at the Royal Academy 2017. He is Honorary Professor in Russian art at the Courtauld Institute, and co-founder of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre. Books include Rodchenko Design 2009, Lissitzky Design 2009, Slap in the Face! Futurists in Russia 2007, Malevich and the Art of Geometry 1996, and Vladimir Tatlin and the Russian Avant-Garde 1984. Exhibitions include Lissitzky 2009 and Jack of Diamonds 2014.

China's century of revolution

Professor Robert Bickers, Professor of History at the University of Bristol

14 Nov

Across the twentieth century China experienced four major political revolutions, but also profound 'revolutions' in language, culture, and perceptions of it overseas. In China today a particular version of this history is officially propagated. In this talk, Robert Bickers explores some of the other strands and actors in that story, how China's enemies were confronted, and how these changes were understood abroad.

Robert Bickers is Professor of History at the University of Bristol and the author of Out of China: How the Chinese ended the Era of Foreign Domination (Allen Lane, 2017), and The Scramble for China: Foreign devils in the Qing Empire (Penguin).

Unfortunately no audio is available for this event.

David’s Les Sabines: Accommodating Truth and Reconciliation post Terror

Dr Valerie Mainz, Senior Lecturer in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds

21 Nov

First exhibited by Jacques-Louis David in December 1799 at the time of General Bonaparte’s rise to power, the major history painting of Les Sabines had been conceived during the artist’s imprisonment after the downfall of the radical Jacobin leader, Maximilien Robespierre. Although the subject of the work is ostensibly about the cessation of hostilities been the Roman and Sabine men due to the intervention of the Sabine women, the painting incorporates both a coming to terms with the horror, atrocities and violence of the recent past and a hidden critique of France’s increasing militarisation.

Dr Valerie Mainz is Senior Lecturer in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds, having previously worked in both the commercial and subsidised sectors of the theatre. She has curated exhibitions at the University Gallery University of Leeds, at the Musée de la Révolution française, Vizille and, together with Dr Richard Williams, at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds. Her most recent book is entitled Days of Glory? Imaging Military Recruitment and the French Revolution.

Unfortunately no audio is available for this event.