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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh College of Art : History of Art

Postgraduate Course: The Cultures and Politics of Display (HIAR11038)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh College of Art CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course studies curation as a subject in itself. Curation is analysed as a practice with longstanding traditions and conventions of different kinds (the 'cultures' of the title) and value systems (the 'politics'). These cultures and politics are shown to vary in different situations. The course also shows how institutional cultures and politics can be challenged by new forms of curatorial practice. 'Interpretation' (the provision of education materials in curating) is a key topic, as is, normally, the curation of film in museum/gallery space, and the costs involved in curating an exhibition. The course is taught by staff from within the University of Edinburgh with experience of curating, as well as curatorial staff from institutions including (typically) the National Galleries of Scotland, the Fruitmarket Gallery, and the Talbot Rice gallery. Lectures by staff from outside the University of Edinburgh will often take place in appropriate sites (e.g. museums) outside the University. Weekly lectures are supplemented by work in small groups (Autonomous Learning Groups) which produce a weekly blog post, or equivalent to be determined by the course organiser.

The course involves a significant amount of group work. Students typically will work independently in small groups for an hour each week, collaborating on a weekly blog post or equivalent. This constitutes formative, not formal assessment.
Course description The MSc core course Cultures and Politics of Display involves studying the ways in which works of art are presented, contextualised and interpreted by their display in galleries, museums and alternative spaces. You will have the opportunity to learn from theorists and practising curators and to consider subjects that range from cultural difference and the politics of display to how you curate for big museums. The course incorporates on-site seminars where students and staff analyse the practical needs and conceptual assumptions underlying the displays of art from several periods and cultures, and in varied media, within particular architectural spaces. The course is divided into three parts: I. Curation, Theory and Discourse; II. Curatorial Practices and Collection Study; and Part III. Specialised Study runs as two parallel strands, one focused on displays of pre-modern art and one focused on contemporary displays.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  60
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Feedback/Feedforward Hours 10, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 166 )
Assessment (Further Info) Please contact the School directly for a breakdown of Assessment Methods
Additional Information (Assessment) 3,000 word essay on a topic provided by the course organiser in week 2 uploaded to Learn in Week 1.
Feedback Feedback is provided on formative assessments as follows: written or verbal feedback on class presentations and one-to-one feedback on essay plans.
Students are expected to assimilate all feedback and apply when working on their essays.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. A good general understanding of range of contemporary curatorial practices, from those in large art institutions, to alternative practices by individuals and small collectives.
  2. A good understanding of key terms and concepts in contemporary curatorial practice
  3. The ability to analyse an exhibition in detail in terms of key curatorial concepts
  4. The ability to make a reasoned value judgement about an exhibition
  5. The ability to work successfully in groups to produce collaborative texts, or similar
Reading List
Nina Möntmann. 2007. 'The Rise and Fall of New Institutionalism: Perspectives on a Possible Future', (
Walter Grasskamp, 'The White Wall - On the Prehistory of the 'White Cube' in Maria Eigenheer, ed, Curating Critique, Issue 09/2011.
Bauer, Petra. 'Introduction.' In Sisters! Making Films, Doing Politics: An Exploration in Artistic Research, 17-27. Stockholm: Art and Theory Publishing, 2016.
Chateavert, Melinda. "The Revolution is Finally Here!' Sex Work and Strategic Sex.' In Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk, 8-20. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.
Iles, Chrissie, and Huldisch, Henriette. 'Keeping Time: On Collecting Film and Video Art in the Museum.' In Collecting the New: Museums and Contemporary Art, edited by Bruce Altshuler, 65-84. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Walter Benjamin's 1931 essay "Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting." first published in "Literarische Welt." Benjamin's dictum is that a collector's passion borders on "the chaos of memories," a curiously moving history which argues that collecting is driven by the desire to control that chaos. In Benjamin, W., Illuminations, translated by Harry Zorn, London: Pimlico, 1999, pp. 61-69.
Anne Higonnet, A Museum of One's Own. Private Collection, Public Gift. Pittsburgh, Periscope Publishing, 2010.
Bazalgette, P (2017) 'Independent review of the creative industries' available from
O'Brien, D. et al (2016) 'Are the Creative Industries Meritocratic?' Cultural Trends 25(2) 116-132 available from
O'Brien, D. (2015) 'Business as usual: Creative Industries and the Specifity of the British State' Oakley, K. and O'Connor, J. (eds) The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries London: Routledge
Luckman, S. (2017) 'Cultural Policy and Creative Industries' in Durrer, V., Miller, T. and O'Brien, D. (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Global Cultural Policy London: Routledge
Hesmondhalgh, D. (2012) The Cultural Industries (3rd Ed) London: Sage
Mark O'Neill, 'Kelvingrove: Telling Stories in a Treasured Old/New Museum,' Curator, no. 50/4, October 2007, 379-400.
Nick Prior, 'The High Within and the Low Without:
The Social Production of Aesthetic Space in the National Gallery of Scotland, 1859-70,' Cultural Logic, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1999. (
Daniel Buren as a response to the Jens Hoffman project 'the next Documenta should be curated by an artist' (2002)
'Being Curated', Frieze:
Nizan Shaked, 'Introduction', in The Synthetic Proposition: Conceptualism and the Political Referent in Contemporary Art (Manchester University Press, 2017): 1-26; and 'Conceptual Art and Identity Politics: from the 1960s to the 1990s,'ibid: 27-59
Stewart Martin, 'The Absolute Artwork Meets the Absolute Commodity', Radical Philosophy 146 (2007): 15-25.
Sven Lütticken, 'The Coming Exception: Art and the Crisis of Value', New Left Review, 99 (May-June 2016), 111-136.
Nizan Shaked, 'The Political Referent in Debate: Identity, Difference, Representation,' in The Synthetic Proposition: Conceptualism and the Political Referent in Contemporary Art (Manchester University Press, 2017): 156-193
Foster, Hal, Rosalind Krauss, Silvia Kolbowski, Miwon Kwon, and Benjamin Buchloh. 'The Politics of the Signifier: A Conversation', October 66 (Fall 1993): 3-27.
Morton J. Horwitz, History of the Public/Private Distinction, 130 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1423 (1982).
Dave Beech, 'On the Absence of a Marxist economics of Art,' in Art and Value: Art's Economic Exceptionalism in Classical, Neoclassical and Marxist Economics (Brill, 2015), 211-240.
David Clarke, 'National Museums: New Studies from around the World,' Curator, 55(4), 2012, 511-14.
Ruth Helm, 'Peale's Museum: Politics, Idealism & Public Patronage in the Early Republic', in Mermaids, Mummies and Mastadons: The Emergence of the American Museum, Washington: American Association of Museums, 1992, pp 67-77.
Edward P. Alexander, Museum Masters: Their Museums and Their Influence, Nashville: American Association of State & Local History, 1983, pp18-42 (Chapter 2).
Tony Bennett, 'The Exhibitionary Complex,' in Reesa Greenberg et al., Thinking About Exhibitions (Routledge, 2008)
Stephen Greenblatt, 'Resonance and Wonder,' in Ivan Karp & Steven Lavine, Representing Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991)
'Public Histories', Richard Cork, in Byatt, Lucy and Charlotte Troy eds., What's Next? 100 years of The Contemporary Art Society Inside Public Collections (London: The Contemporary Art Society, 2011), pp. 258-276.
In addition to reading the set texts, you are invited to prepare for this session by investigating the Collecting Contemporary website:
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsCuration,exhibition studies,politics,economics,creative industry,history of museum
Course organiserDr Kirsten Lloyd
Tel: (0131 6)51 5799
Course secretaryMiss Emma Binks
Tel: (0131 6)51 5735
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