PhD Studentship: David Sylvester, Writings About Art


Tate Research and the University of Kent

Tate and the University of Kent are pleased to offer a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership award on the subject of the art writings of the critic and curator David Sylvester (1924­–2001). Sylvester occupied a pivotal and influential position in the British and international art worlds during the second half of the twentieth century. His commitment to contemporary expression underpinned his art criticism, in all the major outlets of the period, and the many major exhibitions he curated, notably for the Arts Council from the 1950s onwards (Bacon, Moore, Giacometti, Soutine, Bomberg, de Kooning, Morris, Johns, Serra etc.).

Amid growing interest in the function, impact and rhetoric of art writing (both recorded verbal statements and published texts), Sylvester’s role as a critic, author and commentator is ripe for scholarly exploration. The acquisition and cataloguing by Tate of the archive of David Sylvester (1924­–2001) presents many opportunities for important and innovative research in this field. The research of the doctoral student is expected to make a contribution to broader debates about the value and importance of art writing, using the work of Sylvester as a case study.

Research proposals

Applicants should present suggestions for possible PhD projects, indicating their approach, interests and appropriate academic experience. Proposals may, but are not required to, touch upon one or more of the following themes:

· The emergence of the artist interview as a dominant format for interpreting practice. Sylvester was at the forefront of this trend in the 1960s and his work illuminates the advantages and limitations of the interview as a channel for communication between artists and audiences.

· New approaches in post-war criticism. A comparative analysis of Sylvester and other critics of the period, such as John Berger, Lawrence Alloway and Clement Greenberg, which would take account of recent scholarship addressing the history, nature and purposes of art criticism. The development of critical frameworks and terminology in the wake of existentialism and phenomenology, and in the wider circumstances of post-war society.

· Impact on art history. Sylvester’s role in interpreting, through writing and curating, the work of particular post-war artists (for example, Bacon, Giacometti) and movements (for example, kitchen sink realism, Pop art, minimalism), and influence on others.

· The international dimension. Sylvester as a critical player through his writings in the promotion in Britain of new artistic developments in post-war Paris, and subsequently in the response to avant-garde US art, at a time when American popular culture and consumer goods were increasingly coming to the fore in the UK.

· The interplay between critical writing and other kinds of art world activity (such as curating exhibitions) in the career of Sylvester and others.

The successful candidate will be jointly supervised by Professor Martin Hammer (History and Philosophy of Art, University of Kent) and Dr Jennifer Mundy (Head of Collection Research, Tate). At Kent the student will benefit from Professor Hammer’s expertise in the field of post-war British and international art, as well an interdisciplinary research environment in which the study of criticism is a distinctive priority (see the new ‘Arts Criticism’ MA programme). At Tate the candidate will work extensively with the Sylvester archive in Tate Archive and, closely involved with Tate’s Research Department, will contribute to the new research initiative ‘Art Writers in Britain’.

Applicants should send a covering letter setting out their qualifications for this doctoral project, a CV with the names of two academic referees, a doctoral proposal of 1,000–2,000 words, and examples of published or written work, to Dr Jennifer Mundy ( and Professor Martin Hammer ( Shortlisting of candidates will commence from Friday 19 July. Interviews will be held at Tate Britain on Monday 29 July.

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