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Exhibition Histories in Britain: 1769-2001


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutorLuke Uglow
  • Assessment: a 5000-word essay (100%)

Module description

This module will analyse the particular cultural form of the temporary exhibition through a range of historical examples in Britain ranging from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. Asking questions about its origins, development and various functions, throughout the module we will explore the ways exhibitions relate to their intellectual, cultural, political, economic and artistic context.

Beginning with the institutional practice of annual exhibitions associated with establishment of the Royal Academy, we will examine early commercial forms of exhibitions from the eighteenth-century which took place in the sale rooms of auctioneers and art dealers. In the nineteenth-century, artists attempted to exhibit their own work, and we will analyse instances such as William Blake’s show above his brother’s hosiery shop in 1809, and Julia Margaret Cameron's display of photographs at Brockenhurst railway station in 1871. Critically reflecting on the grandiose Victorian exhibitions in London in 1851 and Manchester in 1857, we will also see how Pre-Raphaelite artists gained recognition at the Grosvenor Gallery from 1877. In the early twentieth century avant-garde exhibitions where organised by Roger Fry and the Camden Town Group, a practice which continued in the 1950s with the artist-critic collaborations. Finally, we will discuss the emergence of the figure of the curator, the importance of collectors, and the exhibition of contemporary art in the 1980s and 1990s.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Theories of the Exhibition and its Institutions
  • The Sale Room: Dealers and Auctioneers
  • Solo Shows: Blake, Martin and Cameron
  • Great Exhibitions: London, Manchester and Leeds
  • Exhibitions of Victorian Art: Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism
  • Colonial Exhibitions: 1886-1924
  • Post-Impressionist Exhibitions
  • Exhibition Practice in the 1950s
  • Exhibiting the Contemporary

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge of exhibition histories in Britain between 1769 and 2001
  • analyse historical exhibitions produced Britain between 1769 and 2001
  • demonstrate understanding of current methodological and theoretical approaches to exhibition histories and curatorial practices
  • apply good knowledge of the historical, social, political, economic and aesthetic contexts to exhibition histories.