Yung Lee, School of English

When we came to the Courtauld, most of us were unaware that it offered a curatorial experience unique among art history institutes. The East Wing Collection was founded after the move to Somerset House by a student, Joshua Compston, to bring contemporary art into the daily life of the Institute and clothe its walls. Now a biennial tradition, it is still organised entirely by a committee of students. From fundraising, approaching artists and galleries and preparing a catalogue, to dealing with press and organising an opening night for several hundred visitors, the project plunges us from the safety of the library into the variety of art world that we might encounter beyond the courtyard.

Culture Bound became the theme of the seventh collection, reflecting a growing awareness of the restriction of our own cultural identity as we launched out from its confines. The warren-like spaces of the Institute posed an equal constraint, which evolved into a journey of surprises and unlikely juxtapositions, capable of housing nearly forty artists and relating the various strands of the show to our experience within the building. The period architecture and wall-colours of the spaces around the staff common room complement artists re-visiting the canonical tradition, merging it with their own contemporary identity to create a rich cultural layering expressed through modern media. Such institutionalised intimacy imposed on very personal images of multiculturalism, from artists such as Zineb Sedira and Reza Aramesh, gives way to barren corridors and staircases. Here in the Courtauld streets, billboards, newspapers and the internet project a confusion of information, culminating in the unnerving clarity of Thomas Struth’s urban thoroughfares. Refuge can be sought in a seminar room and the safety of maps and their boundaries, but surveillance and reflections disorient, presided over by our neuroses in Grayson Perry’s Map of an Englishman.

A specially commissioned internet installation fills the back staircase with sound and projections, leading to the quiet of the upper floors and rooms where the word and the museum spell the art historian’s domain.

Two former Courtauld students, Jeremy Deller and Chris Kenny, fill the walls of our most austere rooms with iconoclastic and irreverent ‘graffiti’, a distraction to students and staff alike. Calm returns on the descent of the magisterial staircase, although a discarded sleeping-bag from the street lurks at its base, Gavin Turk’s bronze effigy of homelessness. Retreating back, a last flurry of artistic revenge from half a dozen vandals of books and texts besieges the entrance to the library, before we return to safety between two covers.

Exhibition or Installation? We hope you’ll come to experience it for yourselves.

Nick Dubois
On behalf of the Culture Bound exhibition committee


Full coverage of the collection is at www.eastwingcollection.org.uk. We’re delighted to show groups or individuals round, just write to events@eastwingcollection.org.uk Until summer 2007.

Former students: Join us at Culture Bound for the Summer Party, further details.