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The flexible structure of the Master’s program allows students to concentrate their studies on a chosen field by selecting elective units. Specialist subject areas in which Sotheby’s Institute of Art - London faculty have high level of expertise include Contemporary Design, Photography, East Asian Art and Curating*.

Art and Authentication

Dr Chantal Brotherton-Ratcliffe; Tom Christopherson; Dr Bernard Vere
This unit examines the complex issue of authentication in art. It interrogates historical and cultural definitions and interpretations of authenticity, and their interface with academic, legal and institutional imperatives. The unit critically analyses issues of authenticity relative to the art market, and the position of copies and reproductions, forgeries and fakes within different sectors of the art world. This theoretical framework provides the context in which to examine the process of authentication and the unit considers the various methods and strategies by which art objects are attributed as a key component of this. The unit addresses, inter alia, the materiality of art (scrutinising techniques, scientific testing, alteration and restoration) balancing these empirical observations with the role of historical documents and contextual evidence in the authentication process. The unit thus provides students with an in-depth understanding of the rich complexity of the concept of authenticity, and of the interwoven approaches and imperatives embedded in the process of attribution and authentication.


Art World Logistics and Operations

The logistics and operations systems of the art world have become increasingly significant in the new millennium because of the exponential growth of the art world in terms of both global artistic production and international consumption and trade. This exciting new global framework has also created challenges associated with the social, political and economic shifts brought about by more recent events such as Brexit and US border policy. This unit provides the opportunity to study the operation of the art world in terms of the day to day practical and logistical needs of art businesses, both public and commercial. It will focus on the logistics and transportation of art objects of all types of size and material, age and provenance, as well as chain management systems employed at both local, national and international levels. A central theme of the unit is risk management, as related to issues of packaging, conservation, transport, insurance and security. Other key themes include budgeting, in terms of cost effectiveness as balanced against risk; and collections management. A theoretical framework is provided by the established disciplines of logistics and chain management studies, which students will learn to apply to the specific conditions of the art world.


Contemporary Chinese Art: Process, Medium and Critical Practice

Dr Katie Hill
This unit focuses on contemporary Chinese art from the perspective of critical practices in the twenty-first century. Students explore the critical underpinning of contemporary art from China within theoretical and philosophical frameworks via a series of lectures, seminars, talks and visits. Works by artists such as Qiu Zhijie, Yin Xiuzhen, Song Dong, Xu Bing, Ai Weiwei, He Yunchang and Cao Fei will be analysed and discussed in relation to the relationship between process, medium and criticality, to draw out artistic, political and social conditions that underpin their production. The course will enable students to gain an in depth understanding of socially, intellectually and critically engaged art from China and Chinese societies. It will examine artists’ use of certain types of media, such as film, performance, multi-media, technology, objects and documentary to see how their practices inform the critical engagements within the work. Philosophical texts pertinent to the production of works by contemporary artists from China will be studied relating to issues such as collectivity and participation, the body, language, dematerialisation.


Contemporary Design and its Markets

Dr Lis Darby; Elisabeth Bogdan
Since 1980 design has assumed a high profile in the art market and in contemporary society where it is seen as a crucial indicator of lifestyle and status. This unit interrogates this development, examining the production of design and its consumption in the primary and secondary sectors.
Areas investigated, relative to a range of design objects, include the continuing influence of Modernism; Post Modernism; the rise of DesignArt and conceptual design; appropriation and the recycling of past designs; and sustainability. New materials and processes (such as computer-aided design and digital design) are contrasted with contemporary interest in materiality and the handmade. The focus is on Europe and America, but recent global developments are also examined.
The wider social and cultural background provides the context for understanding these varied approaches and also underpins an investigation into the markets for design of this period. This market analysis is considered relative to the Design Network, the system of institutions, organisations and roles that define and influence the professional design world.


Curating Asian Art

Dr Katie Hill; Dr Anne Farrer
This unit focuses on curating Asian art, exploring different methods and issues in relation to curating via the examination of a wide range of exhibitions and displays. Key sites will be used for study such as the V&A and the British Museum displays of Asian art and current temporary exhibitions in galleries or museums. The course will enable students to analyse, critique and debate specific cultural issues of curating across Asian and Western frameworks of curatorial development and practice through the focus on Asian art within the global circulation of art production and representation. Certain exhibitions will be examined that are considered landmarks in Asian art discourse within the West, such as Hou Hanru’s Cities on the Move, Hayward Gallery (1999), or The Real Thing, Tate Liverpool (2007) and also key large-scale exhibitions such as the Guangzhou Triennial or the Asia Pacific Triennial, that have made significant contributions to the development of Asian art discourse within Asia. Students will develop an exhibition project as the main assessment of the course.


Curating Contemporary Art

Dr Anthony Downey; Dr Marcus Verhagen; Dr Pierre Saurisse
This option is intended for students who want to hone their curatorial skills and their understanding of current trends and debates in curating. It will build on relevant components in Navigating the Art World, including the project, in seminars and lectures on the networks of the contemporary art world and the place of the curator within them, supplementing these with lectures and workshops both on practical aspects of curating in both the private and public sectors and on landmark exhibitions, shows that have marked the history of curating. The emphasis will be on recent developments in curatorial practice, including the artist-curated show and, above all, the rise of the biennial. In the process, we will consider the rewards and potential pitfalls of trans-cultural curating.


East Asian Ceramics: Court, Domestic and Trade

Dr Anne Farrer
The teaching in this unit focuses on Chinese ceramics and includes an examination of related East Asian ceramic traditions. After a discussion of technical aspects of ceramic production, the development of the major Chinese ceramic wares for the court and domestic markets are discussed from the point of view of design, production and consumption as vernacular and/or luxury items. The unit examines the transfer of ceramic traditions via the export trade establishing a global influence which is embedded in the collections of palaces and country houses of both Europe and the American East Coast. Trade ceramics are examined through excavated material from shipwrecks as well as inventoried collections in European collections. The unit establishes the concept of repeated historical themes, trends and philosophies which are a central feature of the art history of East Asia and essential to the understanding of the East Asian ceramic traditions of the modern and contemporary periods.


East Asian Painting: Court and Literati Traditions

Dr Anne Farrer
Exploring aspects of court and literati painting in East Asia as a means of understanding the foundations of the modern traditions of East Asian painting, this unit focuses on China including related themes in Korea and Japan. Beginning with an examination of materials, formats and technical production, the unit examines the key structures, functions and significance of court and literati painting in East Asia and reviews the range of visual themes represented together with their context and meaning. Core texts in the production and understanding of court and literati painting are discussed, and individual paintings are examined in case studies and comparisons are made with paintings of the modern and contemporary period. The unit establishes the concept of repeated historical themes, trends and philosophies which continue to be a central feature of East Asian culture.


Emerging Markets

Dr Iain Robertson
The unit will examine the nature, mechanisms and constituents of art from the developing and transitional world economies. The premise of the unit is the current art market status quo. It seeks to establish the lessons that an emerging art market might learn from or teach to the core developed markets (in the West). As the unit progresses students will examine the conditions and ambitions of the various components of the nation or region. These will be set against history, indigenous traditions and the broader impact of late capitalism. The hypothesis enshrined in modernisation theory shall be tested against the contrasting or conforming ambitions of emerging markets. The unit sets out to show that fundamental economic and political forces have combined with a revival in ancient beliefs to change our world and drive a paradigm shift in cultural perception and value.


Ethics, Laws and the Art Trade

Dr David Bellingham; Tom Christopherson; Dr Anne Farrer
This elective addresses the ethical and legal issues of the art trade focusing on antiquities, Nazi loot and contemporary art. Students will study those areas of national and international legal systems which are relevant to art trade situations, as well as the more aspirational regulatory systems suggested by UNESCO in the 1970s. The concept of ‘due diligence’ which developed out of the UNESCO agreements and is in general use by dealers and auction houses will be discussed, as will the effectiveness of stolen art databases such as the Art Loss Register and Art Recovery. Issues of authenticity concerning fakes, forgeries and misattributions will also be studied in the light of legal/ethical case studies, and other instances of art crime will be included. Finally, the triangular relationship between artist, dealer and collector will be analysed in terms of the ethical and legal problems which regularly arise in everyday art business.


International Art World: The Public Sectors

Dr Iain Robertson
The unit will examine the relationship between the art world and art market and to this end look at three fundamentally different approaches to public sector support for the arts: the state-centred French model, free-market American model and hybrid British system. It will also investigate the institutional approach to culture in East Asia. There will be essentially three layers to the enquiries: supra government, national government and institutional. The unit will look at the subject from an analytical and qualitative perspective, shining a light on the cultural experience as well as its material support for the broader culture. The unit aims to offer a particular perspective on the various issues and areas of art world experience, such as museums, exhibitions in Kunsthallen and government subsidy and political support for art and culture.


Modernism and its Markets

As visitor figures to exhibitions and specialist museums attest, modernist art continues to fascinate the public. Dealing in works that are in many cases over a hundred years old, the Impressionist and Modern departments of London’s major auction houses remain amongst the most significant in terms of size and sales. This unit traces the development of the market for modern art from the establishment of the dealer-critic model of the late nineteenth century through to the present day, taking full account of the ways in which some modernists often resisted the market or developed oppositional practices. Many of the methods established in the modern period continue today, whether selling through a dealer with exclusive rights to an artist’s production, or establishing artist-run spaces. Modernism and its Markets looks at the historical art market, but also examines the current market for modernist art by drawing on the expertise of auction house experts and dealers in an effort to understand the future of modernism’s markets.


Performance Art

Dr Pierre Saurisse
This elective explores the developments of performance in the field of visual arts, from its emergence in the 1960s to the present. Following a chronological perspective, lectures highlight key moments of the history of performance, such as its recognition as an art in its own right in the 1970s. Curatorial issues in relation to performance art are also addressed.
In seminars, students develop a grasp of the changes in the relationship between performance and museums through the study of artworks, exhibitions and commissioning programs. Other sessions take a theoretical approach by focusing on key notions such as ‘performativity’.
Students develop their knowledge and understanding of visual material via a series of visits to public museums and galleries in London. Through visits to archives they are also exposed to the range of primary source material that is appropriate to research on performance.
The unit also examines the legal and contractual issues surrounding performance art and its development over the last two to three decades. Performance art will also be considered in relation to the art market and the ways in which it may ‘resist’ or respond to this market.


Photography: Image and Power (1968-now)

Dr Juliet Hacking
Beginning in the late 1960s, photography has occupied a privileged position as a medium for contemporary artistic production both in the industrialised and the industrialising worlds. This privileged position is, in part, derived from its uses as both an evidential (documentary) and as an expressive medium.
This unit begins with cultural theories of power and its operation, and images of state power, theories of resistance and images of protest, and interrogates the idea of documentary photography (in an art world setting) as a liberal practice.
Other key themes are the politics of representation and the idea that popular forms of digital photography, such as citizen journalism, are reinvigorating the connection between documentary photography and democracy. Framing this unit is the decline of traditional photojournalism and the rise of the art world as a locus for engaged photographic imagery, and a consideration of platform, distribution and audience on signification and affect.


Photography and its Markets

Dr Juliet Hacking
This unit examines how a new art, and a new art market sector, emerged and developed in the period 1839 until the present. The historical component to this unit is conceptualised in terms of network studies: i.e. the teaching and learning examines the role of key structural factors (e.g. exhibitions, collecting, scholarship, museums, dealing) in the development of art photography and its markets. Students develop their knowledge and understanding of the visual material via a series of visits to important public and private collections in London. This teaching and learning provides the foundation for the empirical analysis of the markets for classic, contemporary and vernacular photography, and of the pros and cons of art photography in toto as investment. In this unit students learn how to analyse the market for a given art object and consider the relationship between a given market sector and shifting art world formations.


Strategic Management for the Art World

This unit furthers the inquiry introduced in Navigating the Art World to key areas of strategic management relevant for the successful organisation, development, growth and ultimately survival of any art world organisation operating in a competitive landscape with limited resources. Students will explore and critique key theories, findings and empirical research in the broad field of strategic management and will be asked to consider, critique and contribute to current discourses and debates in the field, exploring the applicability of such material to the art world. They will be required to analyse and assess the strategy and structure of existing organisations and provided with relevant tools and techniques enabling them to develop effective strategic plans of their own.


The Market for Western Antiquities and Old Masters

Dr David Bellingham
This unit provides the opportunity for in-depth study of the market for antiquities and old masters. It will focus on classical and near eastern antiquities as well as western old masters. It will also include study of old master works on paper (paintings, sketches and prints). A central theme of the unit will be the relationship between cultural and financial value systems. The importance of factors such as provenance, authenticity and condition will also be studied. Students will learn how to analyse and interpret art market data, as well as how to organize it in spreadsheets and communicate it in graphic form.


Work Placement (accredited internship)

This elective unit offers students experiential learning in an art-related work environment in London. Practical experiential outcomes are supported by teaching that will provide students with the reflective tools to analyse and to enact employment opportunities successfully. The unit is also intended to relate practically to earlier or concurrent learning on PGDip/MA program units, and may also offer an appropriate context for dissertation research. A key aspect of the Institute’s teaching and learning strategy is to foster informed and professional student participation in the art world sector wherein students reflect on the outcomes of their program learning and on their developing skills. The principle of this approach is that employability is enhanced if work experience becomes a reflective practice by being embedded within a rigorous, assessed academic curriculum. Admission to this elective is subject to application and selection during the academic year.


*Note: Electives will be available to students subject to satisfactory enrolment and as timetabling permits.

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