2021 Postgraduate Dissertation Prize Winner and Shortlist

Each year we select and award dissertation prizes for outstanding essays written by undergraduate and postgraduate students. Winning and shortlisted essays are assessed on the quality of their originality, research and method, and form and content.

Prize winning essay

We are delighted to announce that Lucy Gray (University of Birmingham) is the winner of the Association for Art History’s 2021 Postgraduate Dissertation Prize for their essay, ‘Disrupting the Capitalist/Communist Dichotomy: The Influence of Soviet Museology at The Museum of Modern Art’.

Many congratulations Lucy! Read the essay abstract below.

Shortlisted runners up

Erin Allen (University of York) for the essay ‘Stitching Autonomy: May Morris’s Embroidery as a Tool of Empowerment’

Emily Boldry (Birkbeck, University of London) for the essay ‘Autism in Museums: Exploring Collaborative Practices through the Lens of Neurocosmopolitanism’

Many congratulations to Erin and Emily!

Prize winning abstract

Where in the world might a twentieth century American art institution find inspiration for its museological method and mission? It is probably unlikely, given the historic relations between the two states, that the Soviet Union would be your first guess.

The residual entrenchment of Cold War dichotomies has arguably impeded more nuanced interpretations of Soviet-American relations. In a museological context, the reductivist homogenisation of curatorial/creative practices and arts institutions has resulted in evaluations that arguably negate the potential for cultural and ideological variation, or compromise.

By looking beyond the restrictive lens of the capitalist/communist dichotomy, and the dominant top-down paradigm of Soviet history, this dissertation argues that the vision and museological methods of the first director of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Alfred H. Barr Jr., were influenced by the curatorial/creative practices he witnessed during his trip to Russia in 1927-28.

Furthermore, through an analysis of MoMA’s internal politics, and the contemporaneous political climate framing the institution, I argue that the Red Scare’s influence on the Museum’s trustees restricted Barr’s curatorial freedom, and his openness about the influence of Soviet curators/artists on his practices.

Assessment and Nominations

The Dissertation Prize is assessed by our Doctoral and Early Career Research (DECR) committee. Many thanks to those on the committee who read and shortlisted this year’s submissions. The quality and originality of this year’s postgraduate essays has been extremely high. Many thanks to all who submitted nominations.

Read more about our 2021 Undergraduate Dissertation Prize winner and shortlist.

Image credit: ‘Right to left: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Jere Abbott, and Petr Likhachev, their Russian interpreter, in Moscow, February 13, 1928. Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, IV.B.142. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York.)

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