East Wing Biennial - The Courtauld Institute of Art

East Wing Biennial

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East Wing Biennial

The student-organised contemporary art exhibition of The Courtauld


The East Wing Biennial is a contemporary art exhibition held within the east wing of the university buildings, organised and run entirely by the students of The Courtauld. Past exhibitors of the Biennial include Damien Hirst, Howard Hodgkin and Gilbert and George.

The twelfth East Wing Biennial features works by 31 international artists, including Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, Jacob Hashimoto, Marco Maggi, Rachel Whiteread, Jim Lambie and Laure Prouvost.

2016 marks the 25th year since the inauguration of the East Wing Biennial in 1991. The current exhibition Artificial Realities seeks to expose the realm between reality and falsehood. The works are arranged in thematic microcosms, dispatched across the Courtauld’s unconventional setting. Each room and transitional space disorientates a seemingly established truth to provoke the viewer into evaluating his or her own unique perception of reality.

Faced with seminar rooms of such bareness, that the eye and mind revolted… I decided, by hook or by crook, to find some contemporary art to destroy all the vestiges of such nudity, and by this act restore to its rightful position art in everyday surroundings Joshua Compston, 1991

This was the vision of Joshua Compston, student at the Courtauld Institute 1989-1992 and founder of East Wing. Titled The Courtauld Loan Collection, the first show opened on 27th November 1991 and exhibited the likes of Gilbert and George, Howard Hodgkin, and Damien Hirst, many of whom were recently graduated and stretching the boundaries of the British art scene.

Whether consciously or not, Compston provided a legacy for students of the Courtauld Institute, with the organisation of a biennial show occurring for the last twenty years. Never losing sight of the original concept of East Wing, the shows have progressed and bloomed into the vast project that we see today. Over the years themes such as the transitory nature of art, and the struggle of inner and outer self have been explored through a whole host of media crammed into the labyrinthine layout of the building.

Previous Exhibitions

Interact, 2014-2015

The eleventh East Wing Biennial was entitled INTERACT: Deconstructing Spectatorship and ran from January 2014 to July 2015.

The exhibition sought to challenge pre-existing and traditional perceptions of viewers and their place. A conceptually-driven exhibition, the eleventh installation in the East Wing Biennial series once again provided the opportunity for young curatorial minds to work with contemporary artists. Playing with the role of the spectator, the artists of INTERACT invited viewers to engage with works to realise and overcome their preconceived role.

Material Matters, 2012-2013

The tenth East Wing exhibition ran from 20th January 2012 to July 2013. Entitled, Material Matters, this show was a celebration of both established and emerging contemporary artists who use pioneering media or re-interpret traditional forms of representation.

Material Matters provided a dynamic experience and looked at our personal encounter with art. Its intention was to challenge the stereotypical view of art history and art historians alike by creating a show that was accessible to everyone, proving that contemporary and cutting edge art doesn’t have to be elitist.

This East Wing committee was the tenth of its kind and the exhibition marked the twentieth anniversary of East Wing. The exhibition also coincided with the London 2012 Olympics which provided an exciting cultural dimension to the events taking place.

Exhibitionism, 2010-2011

Exhibitionism: The Art of Display uniquely explored contemporary art through varied methods of display. The show sought to deconstruct the complex space within Somerset House and present contemporary works of art though historical and conceptual modes of curation. These included a spectacular reimagining of an Academy Hang, where student artists were invited to exhibit alongside well known artists such as David Begbie and Karen Knorr. A modern day Cabinet of Curiosities taking its influence from the seventeenth century Wunderkammer; the presentation of objects of value and wonder. The contents of the cabinets were mostly artistic interpretations of the natural and fantastical, including taxidermy, the insect kingdom and anatomy. The other rooms critically investigated the roots of Western museology. In this way, Exhibitionism directly challenged contemporary accepted ways of staging art.

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