Iconoclasm in Britain exhibition, September 2013 at the Tate Britain, London


Our Lady Vulnerata, from the English College Chapel, Valladolid.

In September this year there will be an exhibition at the Tate Britain on the theme of iconoclasm entitled: ‘Art under Attack: Histories of Iconoclasm in Britain’ opening on September 30th.  It has been organised with the help of scholars of the international Iconoclasms Network. The exhibition will focus on iconoclastic currents in history and in our own time in Britain and at their sources in religious, political moral and aesthetic controversy. State sponsored iconoclasm by religious reformers and image-breaking in times of political change will be looked at alongside individual attacks on art works and at the iconoclastic dimension in contemporary art, where destruction can be a means to creativity. One of the main organisers is Prof Richard Clay of the University of Birmingham, who has recently published on iconoclasm in Paris in the French revolution, recently previewed on the University History of Art department’s blog Golovine He is one of a group of scholars who make up the Iconoclasms Network. The scholars who make up the network are from the US and Europe. They specialise in different areas of iconoclasm across the centuries and continents. The group, which has three years funding from the Arts and Humanities research Council (AHRC), was initially set up out of a 2009 workshop on the theme at Harvard by Leslie Brubaker, also of the University of Birmingham, a specialist in Byzantine iconoclasm. She is also directly involved in the exhibition at the Tate. Other members of the network  include James Noyes, who has a forthcoming book on the politics of iconoclasm, published by Ashgate, Li Hong, who specialises in iconoclasm in Chinese history, Jose Cabezon, a specialist in Tibetan art,  Zoe Strother, a specialist in African art and Finbar Barry Flood, who wrote recently on the destruction by fundamentalists of the Bamiyan sculptures in Afganistan in the Art Bulletin, and others.

Recently, Professor Marina Warner gave an excellent lecture reflecting on the theme of iconoclasm at the Tate, available as a podcast, a kind of prelude to the exhibition. It is a wide ranging lecture, perhaps presaging the exhibition itself, taking in the examples from history, including the destruction of so much church decoration during the Commonwealth in this country, as well as contemporary examples. Professor Warner refers to Finbar Barry Flood’s article on the Bamiyan scupltures in Afganistan, also the subject of a recent book by Llewelyn Morgan. She also reflects on contemporary artists, such as Tacita Dean and the defacing of art works by contemporary artists such as the Chapman brothers’ of a Goya etching and iconoclastic themes in Damien Hirst’s work.



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