module specification

FA7039 - Practice and Theories of Display (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Practice and Theories of Display
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 30
School The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass)
Total study hours 300
246 hours Guided independent study
54 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 40%   Essay
Oral Examination 10%   Seminar Presentation
Coursework 30%   Curatorial Project
Coursework 20%   Curatorial Report
Running in 2017/18 No instances running in the year

Module summary

The module outlines the specific institutional and non-institutional context, and the historical, geo-political and social concerns, surrounding art practice and its display. The module introduces students to a range of contrasting strategies of display through lectures, seminars and workshops.

These examine, among other topics, specific aspects of arts funding and its impact upon curatorial practice and artists; it investigates the implications of the market on exhibition making and the management and display of collections. The module aims to introduce particular examples of display, throughout the 20th Century, in particular that shed light upon exhibition culture.

In the second part of the module, the focus will move to contemporary curating as a plurality of different approaches and as a distinct practice. Lectures and seminars will take place with, for example, leading curators, theoreticians, artists and critics. Additionally, with the support of teaching staff, students will devise and plan an indicative curatorial project.

Module aims

The module aims are to:

  • Examine the context of display, its artworks and the role of the contemporary curator in relation to historical, statutory and commercial frameworks and constraints.
  • Develop knowledge and understanding of the culture and conventions of exhibition-making in relation to the conditions of state and market in each period under consideration.
  • Explore the plurality of contemporary curatorial strategies and their relationships with artistic practice and the art world.
  • Provide students with the opportunity to experiment with and develop their own curatorial knowledge through indicative, first-hand experience.


The module examines contrasting histories and theories of display since the Renaissance, from the Cabinets of Curiosities and Princely collections to the founding of the major museums, from the Great Exhibitions to present day biennials and art fairs, including private patronage, commercial and private galleries, and alternative artist-run spaces. It scrutinises the development of the relationship, between the notion of the exhibition and audience reception, whilst examining the impact of private patronage, state funding and policy, and the burgeoning market-led economy.

The module also examines contemporary curatorial methods and strategies. Lectures, talks by specialists in the field will be supplemented by visits to particular galleries and institutions. Students will plan and develop a curatorial project for feasible exhibition in liaison with the course team.

Learning and teaching

The Learning and Teaching strategy for the module is to both inform students and actively engage them in a critical discussion and research of related to the themes. This is achieved through:

Lectures – illustrated lectures will be accompanied by an abstract and a pre-reading list available on web-learn

Seminars – students will engage in critical discussion with peers and each give a seminar presentation on their own research, this will enable them to share research approaches and material, ask questions and interrogate the nature of theories and practices of display together.

Supervision – individual and group tutorials will be available to students on the module and support them to frame their area of research and develop their curatorial propositions.

In addition, students are encouraged to make maximum use of the resources available to them in terms of the IT provision, both within the Faculty and the library. Blended Learning /weblearn includes the provision of course and module information on the web, lecture notes, feedback, and blogs are used to enhance independent learning.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of the module, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the context of display and its artworks;
  2. Utilise knowledge and understanding of curatorial practice within a historical and theoretical field of display;
  3. Apply knowledge and understanding of the (internal) cultures and conventions of visual display to the external forces giving rise to these;
  4. Employ a sophisticated understanding of the broad spectrum of relationships between contemporary art practice and curatorial methodologies;
  5. Apply practical knowledge of conceptual paradigms and working practices relating to contemporary display;

Assessment strategy

The student will submit 4 distinct assessed elements for the module:

Essay (indicative word count 3000) 
Seminar presentation (15 minute) on the essay’s theme to the peer group
Curatorial Practice (to include research and development, contemporaneous record of production)
Curatorial Report (indicative word count 1000) reflecting upon the curatorial project

Work will be assessed against the learning outcomes with the following criteria:

  • Appropriate use of research methods
  • Quality of analysis and interpretation
  • Subject knowledge and relevance
  • Quality of communication and presentation
  • Appropriate technical competence
  • Appropriate use of problem solving, testing and experimentation
  • Management of own learning and personal professional development


The following are indicative only. Refereed journals/articles and electronic resources: issued according to syllabus.

Alberro, A. (ed.) (2005) Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser, The MIT Press
Altshuler, B. (ed.) (1994) The Avant-Garde in Exhibition, Harry N. Abrams, New York.
Altshuler, B. (ed.) (2005) Collecting the New: Museums and Contemporary Art, Princeton University Press.
Arts Council England, Turning Point, < >
Aupetitallot, Y. (1995) Wide White Space 1966-1976, Richter Verlag.
Barker, E. (ed.) (1999) Contemporary Cultures of Display, Yale University Press
Barragan, P. (ed.) (2008) The Art Fair Age, Charta.
Bennett, T. (1995) The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics, Routledge.
Borzello, F. (1987) Civilising Caliban: Misuse of Art 1875-1980, Camden Press.
Burgess, J. et al (2002) City Racing: The Life and Times of An Artist-Run Gallery, Black Dog Publishing.
Cuno, J. (ed.) (2006) Whose Muse? Art Museums and the Public Trust, Princeton University Press.
Doherty, C. (2004) Contemporary Art: From Studio to Situation, Black Dog.
Greenberg, R. Ferguson B. Nairne S. (ed.) (1996) Thinking about Exhibitions, Routledge.
Hoffmann, J. (ed.) (2004) The Next Documenta Should be Curated by an Artist, Revolver.
Kolle, B. (ed.) (2007) Okey Dokey: Konrad Fischer, Walther Koenig Verlag.
Marincola, P. (2007) What Makes a Great Exhibition? Reaktion Books.
Marincola, P. (ed.) (2002) Curating Now:  Imaginative Practice/Public Responsibility, Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative.
McClellan, A. (ed.) (2003) Art and its Publics, Wiley-Blackwell.
Mc Shyne, K. (ed.) (1999) The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Montmann, N. (ed.) (2006) Art and its Institutions, Black Dog.
Obrist, H. Vanderlinden, B. (ed.) (2001) Laboratorium.
O'Doherty, B. (1976) Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, University of California Press
O'Neill, P. (ed.) (2007) Curating Subjects, Open Editions.
Perry G. & Cunningham, C. (ed.) (1998) Academies, Museums and Canons of Art, Yale University Press.
Preziosi, D. Farago, C. (ed.) (2004) Grasping the World: The Idea of the Museum, Ashgate Publishing.
Rugg, J. Sedgwick, M. (ed.) (2007) Issues in Curating Contemporary Art and Performance, Intellect Books.
Saunders, F. (2001) The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, The New Press.
Schubert, K. (2000) The Curator's Egg: The evolution of the museum concept from the French Revolution to the present day, One-Off Press.
Serota, N. (2000) Experience or Interpretation: The Dilemma of Museums of Modern Art, Thames & Hudson.
Staniszewski, B. (1998) The Power of Display: The History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art, MIT Press.
Tannert, C. Tischler, U (ed.) (2004) Men in Black: Handbook of Curatorial Practice, Revolver.
Vergo, P. (1989) The New Museology, Reaktion Books.
Wade, G. (ed.) (2001) Curating in the 21st Century, New Art Gallery Walsall.