2019 Annual Conference Highlights

This year our three day international Annual Conference took place in partnership with the Department of History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton. This was our 45th Annual Conference and the first time that we had been back to Brighton for a conference since 1986.

Taking its prompt from Rosalind Krauss’ seminal essay ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’ from 1979, the provocation of this year’s event was to consider art history and visual culture in an expanded field.

The forty sessions and over two hundred research papers that we selected for the conference invited speakers and delegates to think in expanded ways about the materials of art history and visual culture, and the diverse sites and circumstances of its production and circulation. Some sessions connected art histories with pressing topics in humanities, such as the role of migration and its legacies in global histories. Other sessions encouraged reflections on how our activities as makers, writers, educators and theorists enrich and stimulate our professional practices.

This year’s Annual Conference also included a professional programme of selected workshops and roundtables which were open to the public as well as delegates. The professional programme reflected current issues within education, museums and cultural institutions which, this year, focused largely around issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in relation to teaching, practice, curriculum, collections and government policy. We also hosted a REF 2020 forum and launched our own manifesto for art history in education on the final evening.

There were, as usual, a range of tours and visits that took place over the extended lunch breaks, including local walking tours, an exclusive tour of the Royal Pavilion and a unique film screening of ‘Five Films'(1972-73) by David Hall and Tony Sinden.

There were three fantastic keynotes. Artist Michael Rakowitz opened the conference with his awe-inspiring talk about ‘Ghosts, hosts, monuments and admonishments’. He told us the story of his work and research that all began with a tin of date syrup, and ended up, in part, with a Lamasu on Trafalgar Square’s forth plinth as a counter-war memorial, with its arse to the National Gallery.
On the second night straight-talking art historian Claire Bishop delivered a talk to be reckoned with around ‘Information Overload: Research-Based Art and the Politics of Attention’. Focusing on the 70s, 80s and 90s realm of research, practice and teaching she examined what had changed. Had it always been this way?! How do/should artists focus attention? Was the neoliberal knowledge system responsible for encouraging a tendency towards “search as research” or an increasingly common type of practice that resulted in “attention triage”?
The final lunchtime keynote was presented by art historian Marcia Pointon (former editor of our journal, Art History, and former chair of the Association – who had also convened a session at the 1986 conference in Brighton. Marcia delivered a brilliant talk around art history without boundaries, noting how “art history succeeds best when it is responsive not reactive”. She questioned who or what determines the parameters of art history and access to it? She encouraged art historians to graze beyond their chosen, and familiar ‘fields’! Ignorance is comfortable but not progressive: dare to cross parameters and embrace the discomfort of not knowing.

The 2019 Annual Conference was also an opportunity for us to award our Dissertation Prizes to undergraduate winner, Chloe Philips, and postgraduate winner, Samantha Scott. Following the awards, the Association for Art History’s CEO, Gregory Perry, announced the launch of our new grants and bursaries programme, details about which will appear online in June. The new grants are designed to support research, develop professional practice, and to enhance the teaching and learning of art history at all levels. On the final day of the Annual Conference we ended the event with a reception and the launch of our manifesto for art history in education.

The Annual Conference attracted 500 participants in total, including 280 speakers and convenors and 13 exhibitors. 30 attendees received our bursaries for doctoral and early career (DECR) researchers – a new initiative which was hugely appreciated. We also had a fantastic crew of 23 student conference assistants (from the university of Brighton and University of Sussex), and others who volunteered their time and expertise for sessions, tours and discussions.

The 2019 Annual Conference was co-organised and convened by Claire Davies (Deputy CEO) and Cheryl Platt (Conference coordinator) from the Association for Art History, working alongside Lara Perry, Jeremy Aynsley, Annebella Pollen, Louise Purbrick, Claire Wintle, Matthew Cornford, Naomi Salaman and Ceren Ozpinar (from the University of Brighton), and Francesco Ventrella (university of Sussex). The Annual Conference was generously supported by Paul Mellon Centre for British Art and Yale, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, and Prestel Publishing.

As the organisers of the 2019 Annual Conference for art history we are delighted with how well it went and how positive the feedback has been so far. We hope that this event has provoked and encouraged participants to share encounters with art histories and visual cultures in new, different and expanded ways.

Please tell us what you thought
If you attended this year’s Annual Conference and would like to share your experience and feedback please complete a short online survey by 29 April and you could win one of three free tickets to next year’s Annual Conference in Newcastle.

Image: Michael Rakowitz giving the opening keynote lecture.