British Art Studies July 2021

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British Art Studies July 2021

British Art Studies Issue 20, published 19 July 2021
Cover image: Rita Duffy, Soften the Border, 2017, installation on Blacklion-Belcoo bridge, dimensions variable.. Digital image courtesy of Rita Duffy (all rights reserved).
PDF generated on 14 April 2022
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Published by:
Paul Mellon Centre 16 Bedford Square London, WC1B 3JA
In partnership with:
Yale Center for British Art 1080 Chapel Street New Haven, Connecticut
ISSN: 2058-5462 DOI: 10.17658/issn.2058-5462 URL:
Editorial team: Advisory board:
Produced in the United Kingdom.
A joint publication by

British Art after Brexit,
Slade, London, Asia: Contrapuntal Histories between Imperialism and Decolonization 1945–1989 (Part 1), Liz Bruchet and Ming Tiampo
Slade, London, Asia: Animating the Archive (Part 1), Liz Bruchet and Ming Tiampo
“Everything I Learnt About Activism I Learnt in King’s Lynn”: Gustav Metzger’s Formative Years in King’s Lynn, Jonathan P. Watts
Lady of Silences: The Enigmatic Photo-Text Work of Zarina Bhimji, Allison K. Young
Victorian Anatomical Atlases and Their Many Lives (and Deaths), Keren Rosa Hammerschlag
Anatomy in Context: Conversations in the Wellcome Collection, London, Jonathan Law, Ludmilla Jordanova and William Schupbach
Bloodlines: Circulating the Male Body Across Borders in Art and Anatomy 1780–1860, Anthea Callen
Black Apollo: Aesthetics, Dissection, and Race in Joseph Maclise’s Surgical Anatomy, Keren Rosa Hammerschlag
Mr Joseph Maclise and the Epistemology of the Anatomical Closet, Michael Sappol
Joseph Maclise, Taylor & Walton, and Publishing on Gower Street in the 1840s, William Schupbach
“It Should Be on Every Surgeon’s Table”: The Reception and Adoption of Joseph Maclise’s Surgical Anatomy (1851) in the United States, Naomi Slipp

British Art after Brexit
Cite as
, "British Art after Brexit", British Art Studies, Issue 20, 10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-20/conversation

Introduction by
British Art Studies Editorial Group,
What does it mean to correlate art and art history with “nation”? At the time of publication, the full impact and effects of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union are just beginning to manifest. In this feature, we are interested in the art-historical, historiographic, curatorial, political, legal, creative, and other aspects of how Brexit impacts on art making and the study of art history in relation to Britain. In light of Brexit and its attendant nationalist politics, we also envisage this Conversation Piece to be part of an ongoing dialogue about what it means to conceptualise a national art history, which in Britain’s case encompasses its pre-colonial and colonial pasts and neoliberal global presents.
The idea of “British art” has always been problematic. This has been highlighted in particular by art and architectural historians who work with material created before the concepts of “Britain” and “British” existed as commonly used signifiers of national identity, or implied meanings not carried by those terms today. Within art history, and the humanities more broadly, the rationale for using “nation” as an organisational category has long been scrutinised and discussed. 1 In 1994, in Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies, Kobena Mercer asked “Why the need for nation?”, underlining the critical energy that such questions brought to the activities of Black British artists and their ability to undermine racist and fascist constructions of nationhood. 2 In curatorial practice, the category of the nation appears to have been re-energised as a place of geopolitical critique, emerging more as a testing ground for questioning than as a descriptive, legal, or bureaucratic term. 3 These efforts issue a challenge to redefine the relationship of art and its histories to nationhood from both within and beyond Britain. As Catherine Grant and Dorothy Price wrote in their “Decolonizing Art History” feature for Art History (2020),
the backdrop of Brexit cannot be ignored, along with the impact of austerity and precarity in the university and museum sectors, and the rise of nationalism and xenophobia in response to both economic and political migration. There is a sense of instability in
the political landscape, and conversations are often harder to hear than accusations, condemnation or dismissal. 4

We are “in” rather than “after” Brexit. Behind the theatre of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, many important mechanisms of collaboration in the arts have been, or are in the process of being, dismantled. Although much remains uncertain, immediate realities include the loss of around £40 million of EU arts funding per year, the UK’s withdrawal from the Erasmus scheme, and more complicated restrictions on moving, working, buying, and selling, between the UK and EU member states. 5 If the UK becomes an expensive and prohibitive place to study, if access to EU research funding is not replaced, and if cultural institutions begin to see cross-Channel collaboration as a risk not worth taking, will these logistical borders be replicated in the future of how we understand art in Britain?
Figure 1.
Cornelia Parker, A Side of England, 1999, chalk retrieved from a cliff fall at Beachy Head, South Coast, England, wire, and mesh. Digital image courtesy of Christie’s Images / Bridgeman Images (all rights reserved).

Considering the wider cultural and political contexts of Brexit, we must also ask what it means to make, study, and curate “British” art in a neonationalist climate, particularly when the current UK Government exercises political control of the arts, intervening in decisions that curators and educators are trained to make. 6 In so doing, the history of Britain’s resurgent and recurrent nationalisms simultaneously points to an orientation entwined, as Paul Gilroy has incisively shown over several decades, with the empire and its decline, racism, “postcolonial melancholia” and violence. 7 This begs the question of why the compulsion to study national schools endures.
Brexit has amplified problems surrounding borders—physically and conceptually; within the UK and internationally—making Britain’s status as an island more palpable. While the character of these tensions has shifted over time, both the first referendum to leave the EU, in 1975, and the most recent one, in 2016, have made the distinctions between England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland more apparent and uncomfortable. 8 We encouraged responses to this provocation that consider the impact of these reconfigurations on art making, the interpretation of historical and contemporary art, and the wider cultural field. How does Brexit change conceptualisations—past and present—of English, Northern Irish, Scottish, and Welsh art? How is the imagery and language of Brexit entering into the cultural imagination of Britain? How can art history account for the art and culture of the “borderlands”? 9 What images and ideas of “British art” are being produced from beyond its physical borders? What can the longer histories of the artistic relationships between Britain and Europe tell us about how geographical and conceptual borders have been crossed, negotiated, and bypassed by cultural forms? And what can we learn from how the movement of European art historians to Britain in the past has shaped the field of art history? Finally, looking at the present, has Brexit instigated artists, writers, curators, and historians to imagine alternative forms of association and practice which reimagine or cast aside national frameworks?

Response by Jenny Gaschke, Curator of European art pre-1900, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
British Art Remains European art
“Si dans le contexte du Brexit, cette saison britannique trouve un écho particulier, elle n’en réaffirme pas moins avec force les liens
indéfectibles tissés à travers l’histoire entre l’Angleterre et l’Aquitaine, restée toujours très anglophile”. 10
With these words, the Mayor of Bordeaux, Pierre Hurmic, introduces the sumptuous exhibition catalogue Absolutely Bizarre! Les drôles d’histoires de l’Ecole de Bristol (1800–1840). The exhibition, which opened on 10 June 2021 and showcases eighty works by nineteenth-century artists including Francis Danby, Edward Bird, and Rolinda Sharples, has taken nearly five years to prepare (Fig. 2). It is a collaboration between the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, the Louvre, Paris, and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, with additional loans from the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath and Tate. Work on this international project started just a few months after the Brexit referendum and successfully bridged the transition period and the final departure of the UK from the EU.
Figure 2.
Francis Danby, Sunset at Sea After a Storm, 1824, oil on canvas, 89.6 x 142.9 cm. Collection of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (K5008). Digital image courtesy of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery (all rights reserved).

As a German curator of British and European art who works in the UK, Brexit has had more than a professional or academic impact on me. Even just focusing on the collections of British art in the UK and the ongoing work required to research, de-colonise, and interpret them—and make them accessible to all—it seems obvious to me that such essential curatorial tasks cannot be done outside a European context even after Brexit.
To me, maintaining this “European context” relates first to the continental European study and reception of British art, through projects such as Bordeaux’s exhibition: we need the external, yet informed and congenial perspective that side-steps British preconceptions of what British art is. Bristol and Bordeaux have been trading for centuries and have been twinned as cities for over seventy years—to our colleagues at the Musée des BeauxArts and their audiences, the Bristol School is not a minor regional phenomenon: it is simply British art history.
My hope is that the dedication required to stage such a major project, or even just the possibility for European researchers and curators to come to the UK and vice versa to discuss British art together, will continue despite new restrictions to travel and immigration. But I worry that a lack of foreign language confidence on the part of British art curators and museum professionals might make this work more difficult and could broaden the gap to Europe—what is the situation at British art history departments?
Secondly, it must be remembered that British art has never existed in isolation. Francis Danby, Irish-born, spent years working in Switzerland and France and brought continental thinking back with him when he returned to live in England—how about showing him alongside French artists? And for hundreds of years European artists (as well as art historians and curators) have come to Britain, co-exhibited, coexisted, co-shaped its art—even if this annoyed Britons as far back as William Hogarth. These contributors should not be written out of British art history.
There is no British art exceptionalism and there is no point in focusing solely on the local—a suggestion which some in the museum world might pander to in order to heal the Brexit divide. What is the local anyway? Over three million Europeans are still living in the UK and they too are our audiences, as are those who have come to the UK from around the globe. For the successful decolonisation of British art history which we owe our diverse audiences, we also need the comparison with other European art histories undergoing the same process.

Response by
Sarah Gould, Lecturer, Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne
Disorganization / Organization
As someone living in France, I first experienced Brexit through the delivery of a book on Thomas Gainsborough. I was surprised when the postman told me I owed an extra twenty-eight euros. It was a charge resulting from the new customs rules, he said. Meanwhile, I had noticed that British magazines took longer to arrive—when they arrived at all. These moments of friction may be anecdotal, but they have introduced a new form of temporality to cultural production and its accessibility, impacting bookshops, libraries, universities, and museums downstream. What does Brexit do to the study, the teaching of British art? In her important book Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America (2014), Jennifer Roberts proposed an alternative reading of artistic creation that looked at how the numerous physical displacements and removals to which a work of art may be subjected informs its very production. In this context, some exhibitions will no longer travel to Europe, and perhaps will never be organised in the first place. If we think about books or artworks as objects not only for themselves but also for their relations to the world, we have to reflect upon the pockets of meaning prompted by their circulation and, in the present Brexit-inspired case study, the time lag in the cross-cultural encounters they generate.
This is not just art theory. These new forms of temporal lag affect real people. Among the most noted consequences of Brexit is its interference with student exchange programmes. In the Turing scheme, which replaces the Erasmus programme in the UK, the emphasis is placed on going abroad. Very little is said, however, about incoming students, who, for now, will most likely have to pay exorbitant international fees. Anna Rossi is an artist who, as a student at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, was able to do her Erasmus exchange at the Slade, University College London (Fig. 3). People tend to forget that fine arts students also benefit from the program, as these exchanges are often made invisible by conventions on artist CVs.

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British Art Studies July 2021