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Archive for July, 2012

Researching Images

Well, that wasn’t too painful. In fact it was kinda cool. The class consists of about 20 or so Masters by Research and PhD students, who are loosely researching ideas relating to images. There are some really awesome topics, included but not limited to:

  • Dance choreography and the importance of So You Think You Can Dance
  • Philosophy and imagery of Sophia Coppola’s Maria Antoinette
  • The depiction of animals in painting at the turn of the Twentieth Century
  • The oeuvre of Howard Arkley in relation to conservation and restoration
  • A rethinking of Futurism in relation to its actual reflection of the politics of the day
  • An examination of the rise of private collection institutions such as Tarrawarra and MONA

The workshop itself was pretty bludgy. I got to describe my ideas and listen to what others had been up to over the break. As it turns out, the majority of the class has been at it since the start of the year, so i was one of the only mid-year starters. It was both handy and scary to see where i need to be at in six months time!

Having sat through one of these, i may now be coming around to the wisdom that these workshops might be handy to staying on track and having a cohort to support you in the critical year one of candidature before confirmation.

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A PhD has classes?

After jumping head first into this research adventure, my first stumbling block has been the addition of classes in the PhD program at the University of Melbourne. New this year, the Arts faculty has, in its infinite wisdom, decided to introduce compulsory workshops. Beginning this week i will be attending a workshop called Researching Images, run by Prof. Charles Green and Dr. Mark Nicholls. I am not sure how i feel about this. One of the excellent qualities of the PhD is meant to be the lack of class time and tortuous forced readings. I will update with the wisdom of this workshop after day one. Stay tuned.

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A PhD hat* i hope to wear one day
* may not be technical name

Today marks the first day of my PhD Candidature. Yup, that’s right, i have taken the leap into research. Five years ago when i handed in my Art History thesis i swore i would never do another research project! Ironically that thesis was a tiny total of 12,000 words. I am now facing down the barrel of seven times that much!

Why? Well i am fast learning that a BA (hons.) is not enough, nor has the Masters of Art Curatorship really solved the problem. I have the perennial arts student problem, i am a jack of all trades and a master of none (despite what the shiny testamur might say!) So i have chosen to tackle this problem head on. I have found a topic that i believe will sustain my interest for three years and dived in head first (that is for a whole other post!)

This blog will lay testament to my journey. I am excited and nervous all at once. I am also hoping the clichés are a temporary affliction.

Truth be told i am really in it for the hat… oh and so people can refer to me as Dr. Flick.

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I just arrived home from a mind-blowing trip to Europe where i attended my first major international art fair (ArtBasel), my second Documenta and my first international art conference as a professional (rather than an organiser!)

View over Umbria at sunset

I found ARCA – the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art – during a random hunt for an overseas postgraduate degree. ARCA run a Postgraduate Certificate in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in the European summer. As amazing as it sounded, the cost and the length of the program (three months), prohibited me from pursuing it further.

Instead i had to settle for the annual conference, which was being held for the fourth time during the postgraduate program, to allow the students the opportunity to network with, and learn from, the gathered art crime experts from around the world. The festivities took place 23-24 June, in Amelia, Umbria in Italy, a small medieval town about 40 mins from Roma.  

Jason Felch’s Chasing Aphrodite

On the day of the conference, the Italian transport system failed me on route, and i found myself stranded at Orte station, a good 20 min drive Amelia. Luckily the conference organisers were on the ball and rather than have to figure our the Italian taxi system, a car was dispatched for my rescue.

After chatting to other stranded international attendee in the car, i realised it may not have been my esteemed presence that warranted the car, but my fellow passenger, who i learned was Jason Felch, an LA Time reporter.

Mr. Felch was the brains behind the revelations that the Getty was willing buying looted objects for its collection. This made him somewhat of a celebrity amongst the archaeologists in the audience. His book on the topic, Chasing Aphrodite, co-authored with Ralph Frammolino, details the case and he was in Amelia to receive a prize for his work on the Getty.

The program over the three days covered art forgery, archeology and looting. You can check out the program here.

I found the majority of the presentations exciting and interesting, having never studied looting or art theft in detail. I took copious notes and have already ordered Jason’s book, as well as number of others on the topic!

On the Sunday, the session i was waiting for on art forgery came around. Australia was represented by two criminologists, Saskia Hufnagel & Duncan Chappell. They gave an overview of a number of high-profile art forgery cases, both in Australia and overseas. I had been hoping for more presentations on art forgery, as the conference had a strong bias toward archaeology, rather than forgery. This is now serving as my motivation to present at the next one!

Attendees at the Conference

Being a baby researcher in the area, i was in awe of the experts in the field, but i can already see some holes in the current academia  For a start, Saskia and Duncan are coming at the problem from the perspective of criminologists. Whilst this theoretical framework is integral to the bigger picture solution, engaging art curators and art historians’ knowledge and experience with dealers, artists and buyers, is also needed. In fact, the whole conference consisted mostly of lawyers, criminologists, archaeologists, police and academics. I was one of the only art curators or art professionals in the room. This is a long-term problem for this conversation, and i did note a subtle hostility toward the rank of museum director/curator. Those misgivings aside, the attendees were passionate and pro-active about their respective causes.

Overall I found the conference far too short and i am already hankering for the next one. I made some great contacts with the younger attendees and i am looking forward to seeing them next year.

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