As any Courtauld teacher will tell you, the heart of the Institute is its students. They are our community’s abiding inspiration. It is painfully disappointing when a promising student is prevented from attending the Institute because essential financial support is not available. And it happens all too often. So, to mark a decade of teaching at the Courtauld, I would like to share some stories about what a scholarship can mean. The former MA students featured here are ones with whom I share a particular bond in that, through a combination of financial necessity and intellectual curiosity, they too have compiled educational and professional histories that are proudly eclectic.

Naomi Beckwith studied ‘Postmodernism in the American Context’ in 1998-99, writing her MA dissertation on the work of Adrian Piper and Carrie Mae Weems. Beckwith then returned to the US to enrol in the renowned Whitney Independent Study Program in New York. In 2004, she was selected as a Whitney Lauder Curatorial Fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, where she has just curated the exhibition ‘Fables’. In the process, she reflects, she found herself, ‘trying, in essay form, to explain to the public and posterity – and perhaps a bit to myself – why I’ve brought these artists (Kara Walker, Christopher Myers, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz and Kanishka Raja) together and why now.’ I visited Naomi in Philadelphia last year and found her thriving in the vibrant creative culture of the ICA. ‘I like curating’, she writes. ‘It gives me an immediate access to art as it is being produced and artists as they are working through aesthetic issues. I thought it would also liberate me somehow from critical judgment and allow for a certain faux-naïve approach to art objects. But I see that, in the end, every exhibition is an argument, or a case against one. My show is a visual essay, and the artists have been helping me through the very issues I started tackling as a Masters candidate. The only naïveté was the thought that art presentation is separate from a critical scholarly engagement with the art objects. There is no escaping a good academic training, and truthfully, there is no need to’. ‘Fables’ is on view at the ICA through 17 December 2006.

Jill Bugajski received her MA degree from the Courtauld in 2002. ‘As I was supporting myself independently’, she recalls, ‘I was very intimidated by the heavy financial burden. A scholarship from the Courtauld gave me the financial liberty to be truly creative with my projects and research’. Bugajski’s powerful MA dissertation, ‘Action/Counter-action: distance, danger and audience interference in performance art of the 1970s’ focussed on the dynamic interaction between agent and audience in performance art. Since graduating, she has worked as Assistant Director for Cooperative Education at the Art Institute of Chicago and published a diverse array of writings, including contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Contemporary Magazine, The Central Registry for Information on Looted Cultural Property and Saz Productions. ‘Research from my MA’, she writes, ‘will be featured in a book publication of conference proceedings from “Medicine on Canvas”, sponsored by the Martin D’Arcy Museum of Art and the Hektoen Institute for Medical Research in Chicago’. This autumn, Bugajski begins her doctoral studies at Northwestern University, ‘focusing on inter-war and post-war art history’.

Alex Klein is an artist who works in the medium of photography. Educated at Columbia College, New York City, she came to the Courtauld to study in 2004. ‘The Masters programme at the Courtauld is unique and simply incomparable to any traditional degree currently on offer in the United States’, she observes. ‘Aside from living in London, I was primarily attracted to the programme because of the opportunity both to specialise at the Masters level and to receive the individual attention that would normally be reserved for doctoral students in the States’. Like so many former students, she highlights the importance of the MA trip to New York, which included ‘a visit with the artist Glenn Ligon in his studio and a plethora of behind-the-scenes visits’ to galleries and museums.

‘In the spring, with the aid of a small travel grant awarded by the Courtauld’, Klein recalls, ‘I travelled to see the artist Thomas Hirschorn’s latest controversial exhibition in Paris. Instead of relying solely on outside sources, I was given the opportunity to conduct my own interview with the artist and open a dialogue that has continued to this day. In fact, I was not the only person in my class who took the opportunity to conduct first-hand research. Nick Fitch, a fellow classmate, arranged with Tate Modern to bring the Argentine conceptual artist David Lamelas to London for a series of intimate screenings and talks. A few classmates and I even celebrated the end of the year by spending the week with Lamelas in Venice during the festivities surrounding the Biennale’. For Klein, ‘the capstone of the year was the completion of my thesis. It represented an opportunity to work through and experiment with a range of ideas that have helped me consider my own artistic practice in the MFA program at the University of California Los Angeles where I am currently studying with many of the artists I had initially encountered in my art historical studies. This is, I believe, the most important thing that I have gained from my year and has led me to a better critical understanding of my current and future projects’.

PROF. MIGNON NIXON

David Lamelas, Rebecca Heald, Julia Church, Nick Fitch and Alex Klein at the 2005 Venice Biennale