Introducing Postcards from The Courtauld: Voices on Life, Art & Change’ with Debby Swallow, Märit Rausing Director:
Like countless other nonprofits, The American Foundation for The Courtauld Institute of Art continues to re-imagine the way we stay connected to our special community, and to the wider art world. One constant, though, is our shared love of art and art history.
AFCIA is delighted to launch Postcards from The Courtauld: Voices on Life, Art & Change, a series of spirited and enlightening Q&As with a diverse group of alumni, friends, and special guests, who recount meaningful experiences and perceptions about The Courtauld, along with their current motivations and outlook.
Though it was conceived as a way to inspire, and be inspired by, our US community during a uniquely unsettled time, Postcards will be ongoing. To get us started is Professor Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld. Many thanks to Debby for her time and thoughtfulness.
And we’re excited to announce that Bill Griswold, Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, will be giving us his thoughts on re-opening, and Naomi Beckwith, Manilow Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, will share her insights on how art and institutions can be a platform for change.
As always, we count on you to support our mission to further the high caliber study of art history, art conservation, and curating for which The Courtauld is renowned. Please make a gift today, to let us know that you are united in our singular cause.
In gratitude and warm wishes,
Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld
Was there a life-changing experience that led you to pursue your career?
In the summer of 1969, unclear of what I wanted to do after my BA graduation, and yearning to travel—but not attracted to the hippie trail—I applied for a year’s service with Voluntary Service Overseas, a sort of UK equivalent of the Peace Corps. The application form asked two questions: Where would you like to offer your service? and Are you prepared to go anywhere in the world? My responses were: East Africa (I had some wonderful university friends from Kenya and Uganda who had excited me about their countries); and Yes! I assumed that anyone who said “no” would automatically be sifted out of the process.
A few months later I was on a British Airways plane heading for a year in Odisha in eastern India! The direction of my life had changed forever.
Please describe a fantasy meal with an art world figure, or your most memorable real-life art dining experience.
In autumn 2009, The Courtauld mounted an exhibition entitled Frank Auerbach: London Building Sites 1952-56. At the dinner in our then “Impressionists and Post Impressionists” gallery, I had the privilege of sitting between Frank and Lucien Freud. I can’t remember anything we had—though no doubt it was a delicious meal—but sat fascinated listening to the conversation between these two old friends. It gave me a special and direct insight into their personalities, and into their relationship. After dinner, Frank and his wife left to return to their home in Camden. Lucien declared he was heading for further nightlife, and I’m sure he did just that! The wonderful painting “Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square” by Auerbach, formerly owned by Freud, is now part of the Samuel Courtauld Trust collection, acquired by through the UK’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme, and (besides being an incredible work) it is a permanent reminder of the longstanding and supportive relationship between these two artists.
How have you found relief or joy during these past months?
I have been living alone in Cambridge, so during lockdown three things have been critical to keeping well and optimistic. Firstly, daily telephone calls with family, chatting about everything from international politics and societal movements (and it really has been a turbulent and significant time), to minor shared domestic and family matters; my twice weekly telephone-based exercise sessions; and, like so many others) a rediscovery of the minutiae of the natural world. In my small center city garden the birds are brave and melodious, and my daily walks have given me an amazing opportunity to observe daily changes in the natural cycle. The gradual unfurling of leaves through springtime was a particular delight.
Deborah Swallow — Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld
Bill Griswold — Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art
Jason Farago — Art Critic, The New York Times
Joachim Pissarro — Art Historian, Theoretician, and Director of the Hunter College Galleries
Sara Turner — US Department of Justice
Mary Rozell — UBS Art Collection