Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curating and Criticism - MSc


Are you interested in developing an in-depth understanding of art and its contexts of interpretation and mediation from the late 19th to the 21st centuries? Then this programme is ideal for you.

As a capital city with a strong cultural sector, Edinburgh is host to a variety of modern and contemporary art institutions that will enrich your student experience. The two core courses of the programme are Research, Theories and Methods and Politics and Cultures of Display. In addition, there are electives covering developments from the historical avant-gardes to performance, postcolonial critique, the theories and politics shaping the contemporary art field, and the city in relation to creative practice – all exploring the changing role of art and art institutions in society. The dissertation will help you develop your own ideas, preparing you for being a confident, independent researcher engaged in curating and criticism, or progressing to a PhD.

The programme places a strong emphasis on theoretical and philosophical debates, while the annual Fellowship in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating permits you to look behind the scenes and learn directly from a practitioner. You will also have the opportunity to choose from a selection of optional internships in the cultural sector in or near Edinburgh (offered on a competitive basis) that provide hands-on experience. The weekly research seminars will introduce you to invited scholars and curators. Offered at one of the top universities in the world, with a long tradition in the humanities, this programme demands intellectual commitment and an interest in current developments in the arts sector.

Your future

In completing the programme, you will have gained knowledge in current and often challenging approaches to modern and contemporary art that will enhance your understanding of how art is presented in its diverse contexts.

You can then carry on as a researcher (for example, to a PhD) if you are interested in an academic career, or seek employment in the art world and the exciting, global opportunities associated with that, including: curating and programming, audience development, employment in private or state-funded galleries, art development agencies, education and interpretation, art publishing, and art education.

Who is this programme for?

We welcome students from backgrounds in the humanities, the arts or curating and related fields.The programme demands intellectual commitment and an interest in current developments in the arts sector. We encourage our students to be ambitious, questioning and to pay attention to international trends.

What makes us special?


Our optional internships are a popular feature of our programme. These are limited and offered on a competitive basis, as available placements in the sector vary annually. The primary aim is to introduce students to a working environment related to art and/or art history, or culture more broadly. Placements are arranged in appropriate host institutions in or near Edinburgh. During the internship, students are covered by their host's liability insurance.

Students who secure an internship are normally required to work 20 full days for the host institution (one day per week over the two semesters). They are offered appropriate, academically-related tasks, such as cataloguing, indexing, helping to prepare and install an exhibition, drawing up a publicity or education leaflet, or researching conservation case histories.

Upon completion of the internship, students write and present an Internship Report.

Fellowship in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating

Our programme is also supported by the Fellowship in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating, where a leading expert is appointed annually to work with students normally for two to three weeks each year, in the context of the core course The Cultures and Politics of Display. Appointed Fellows may offer lectures or seminars or engage students in other activities, as appropriate.

Past Fellows include:

  • 2010-11: Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt (focus: Economy and the Art World)
  • 2011-12: Sarah Cook (focus: Curating and the Digital World)
  • 2012-13: Katrina Brown (focus: Curating and Art Biennials)
  • 2013-14: Kirsten Lloyd (focus: Social Reproduction and Contemporary Art)
  • 2014-15: Arika  - duo Barry Esson and Bryony McIntyre (focus: Curating beyond Exhibition Formats)
  • 2015-16: Kirstie Skinner (focus: Collecting Contemporary Art -

We are delighted to have Sarah McCrory, Director of Glasgow International and curator of Monteverdi Tuscany, as our Fellow for 2016-17. Glasgow International is Scotland's flagship art event showcasing cutting-edge contemporary art. Sarah will be focusing on Curating and Organisation. Sarah was previously curator of Frieze Projects and Film and curated a programme of major public commissions as part of the London 2012 Olympic Festival. Prior to this, she was co-curator of the not-for-profit organisation Studio Voltaire, London, and the curator of project spaces Arts & Jobs and Swallow Street, London. For three years she was curator of the self-publishing fair Publish and Be Damned and a Director of Vilma Gold, London. She sat on the jury of the 2014 Turner Prize.

Programme format

What will you study?

The programme is underpinned by two compulsory courses over the academic year, called Research Theories and Methods and The Cultures and Politics of Display.

In addition, you will take option courses on subjects ranging from Surrealism to the evolving paradigms of the 21st century. Option modules offered at present include:

Surrealism, Violence and History; Theorising Contemporary Art; The Creative City in Theory and Practice; What Moves Them: Dance and Performance since 1913; Critical Episodes in 20th-Century German Art; Impressionism and the Third Republic: Culture, Politics and Social Change 1865-1900; Art and Society in the Contemporary World - China; Scottish Art since the 1960s: Practice and Debate; The Aesthetics of Difference: Postcolonial Perspectives from the 19th to the 21st Century.

Please note that modules may change from year to year depending on staff research leave.

Staff expertise

The general expertise of staff teaching the MSc is in the areas of the historical avant-gardes and neo-avant-gardes from the 19th to the 21st centuries; art, culture and globalization (from 1990 to date); lens-based media (photography, film, video) and digital culture; art and labour; performance, activist and participatory art; the museum and related art institutions including the art market; sexual politics and feminist theory; Marxism and critical theory; regional and national art scenes (China, Latin America, Scotland, Nordic, Eastern and Southern European art); contemporary art theory; painting and calligraphy; cultural identity and transnationalism; art and ecology.

Student work


Professor Neil Cox is an expert in modern and contemporary art. He runs an option course 'Surrealism, Violence and History'. His research interests include modernism in European art from around 1910-1960, especially Cubism and Surrealism. His publications include Cubism (2000), The Picasso Book (2010) and Richard Serra (2015), as well as articles and exhibition catalogue essays on Georges Braque, André Masson and Pablo Picasso. He has curated three major exhibitions. He was Director of the ARTIST ROOMS Research Partnership working with Tate and National Galleries of Scotland, which is included in the internship scheme attached to the MSc. He was MSc co-director in 2014-15 and the first semester of 2015-16. Neil is on research leave in Semester 1 2016-17. | View staff profile >

Dr Angela Dimitrakaki is the Programme Director and offers the option course ‘Theorising Contemporary Art’. In 2016-17 she is the also the organiser and a contributor to the core course 'Research Theories and Methods'. Angela is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory, working on gender, labour and globalisation. In 2013, along with Kirsten Lloyd, she curated the group exhibition ECONOMY in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Angela has published over 60 articles and chapters on contemporary art and lectures widely in Europe. Her recent books include ECONOMY: Art, Production and the Subject in the 21st Century (co-edited with K. Lloyd, 2015), Gender, ArtWork and the Global Imperative (2013) and Politics in a Glass Case: Feminism, Exhibition Cultures and Curatorial Transgressions (co-edited with L. Perry, 2013). She is an editor of Third Text and Corresponding Editor of Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, for which she co-edited a special issue on Social Reproduction in 2016. | View staff profile >

Dr Claudia Hopkins is a Lecturer in History of Art, with a special focus on Spanish art and culture as well as postcolonial critique, a subject on which she offers an option course. She is also a contributor to the Masters core courses. Claudia was running the internship programme attached to the MSc until 2016. She has been engaged in curatorial research and also co-convened four conferences on the relationships between art history and theories of (cultural) translation, including ‘Translating Cultures in the Hispanic World’, University of Edinburgh, 2013. The papers of all four conferences have been published in Art in Translation. | View staff profile >

Professor Andrew Patrizio is organiser of the option courses ‘Scottish Art since 1960: Practice and Debate’ and ‘Radical Nature: Art & Ecology from Joseph Beuys to the Present’ (also a 4th-year undergraduate course). He is also a lecturer on the ‘Research Theories and Methods’ Semester 1 core course. Andrew holds the Chair of Scottish Visual Culture in History of Art, working on post-1945 material. He also researches and teaches on global ecological issues within the discipline. He has a professional curatorial background prior to his academic career and he recently co-curated The Scottish Endarkenment: Art and Unreason 1945 to the Present in Edinburgh. | View staff profile >

Professor Richard Thomson is organiser of the option course ‘Impressionism and the Third Republic, 1870-1900’ and a contributor to the two core courses of the MSc. A widely published expert on late nineteenth-century French art, he is the author of several monographs, most recently Art of the Actual: Naturalism and Style in Early Third Republic France, 1880-1900 (Yale, 2012). His extensive work as an exhibition curator includes major shows at the National Gallery and Tate Britain, London, the Grand Palais and the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, the Art Institute of Chicago and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Richard is on research leave in 2016-17. | View staff profile >

Dr Tom Tolley researches the visual culture and visuality in northern Europe in the late Middle Ages. In 2016-17 he is in charge of the internship programme attached to the MSc. | View staff profile >

Dr Lucy Weir is Teaching Fellow in History of Art, specialising in modern dance and performance studies. Her research interests also include Viennese Actionism, Japanese postwar performance, queer theory and outsider art. She is completing a monograph on the German choreographer Pina Bausch, and developing a new research project on masculinity and violence in postwar performance. She is a contributor to the Masters’ core courses and offers option courses. In 2016-17 Lucy offers the option course 'What Moves Them: Dance and Performance Art Since 1913'. | View staff profile >

Dr Harry Weeks is a contemporary art historian and Teaching Fellow in the School of History of Art. He contributes to the MSc core courses and offers the option course 'The Creative City in Theory and Practice'. He was awarded a PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 2014 for a thesis examining negotiations of community in art since 1989. His research interests include: participation and social engagement; cultural policy; art and urban regeneration; and the institutional politics of contemporary art. He is co-editor of the Spring 2016 special issue of Tate Papers, entitled ‘Mediating Collaboration’, and his text ‘Atemporal Community’ appears in the forthcoming Former West Reader (BAK 2016). Since 2014 he has co-convened ‘KEYWORDS: A (Polemical) Vocabulary of Contemporary Art’, a public engagement project on art and language, for which he has programmed events at CCA, Glasgow; Collective, Edinburgh; DCA, Dundee; and The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh. | View staff profile >

Dr Christian Weikop is Senior Lecturer and Chancellor's Fellow in History of Art. He is a specialist in modern and contemporary German art and has published extensively in this field, most recently on the Brücke group and Anselm Kiefer. He has given guest lectures and published books, articles and catalogue essays on German art with many of the most important art and academic institutions in the world, including: Museum of Modern Art New York (MoMA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Harvard University, Humboldt University in Berlin, Hamburg Arts and Crafts Museum, the Courtauld Institute, Royal Academy London, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and Tate Modern. He is also a curator and a presenter of arts documentaries for BBC radio. He teaches various courses, including an MSc option course entitled: 'Critical Episodes in 20th-Century German Art'. | View staff profile >

Professor Richard Williams is Head of History of Art from September 2016. He researches the urban environment, museums in the 21st century and the visual cultures of globalisation and teaches in the team-taught Semester 1 core course 'Research, Theories and Methods'. His books include Sex and Buildings: Modern Architecture and the Sexual Revolution (2013), Regenerating Culture and Society: Art, Architecture and Urban Style within the Global Politics of City-Branding, edited with Jonathan Harris (2010), Brazil: Modern Architectures in History (2009), The Anxious City: English Urbanism in the Late Twentieth Century (2004), and After Modern Sculpture: Art in the United States and Europe, 1965-70 (2000).  | View staff profile >

Dr Chia-Lin Yang researches modern and contemporary Chinese art. She is organiser of the MSc core course ‘The Politics and Cultures of Display’ (Semester 2) and offers the option course 'Art and Society in the Contemporary World: China'. She is also the Programme Director of the MSc in History of Art, Theory and Display.  | View staff profile >

In 2016-17 MSc Dissertation supervision is offered by:

Dr Patricia Allmer, Prof Neil Cox, Dr Angela Dimitrakaki, Dr Michelle Foot, Dr Claudia Hopkins, Dr Andrew Patrizio, Dr Chia-Lin Yang, Dr Christian Weikop, Dr Lucy Weir, Dr Harry Weeks, Prof Richard Williams. NB: The above list may be subject to change in the course of the year.


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News & events

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"The Common Sense" on display in Talbot Rice Gallery during the British Art Show in 2015
"The Common Sense" (2015) on display in Talbot Rice Gallery during the British Art Show in 2015
Image by Chris Park

Its first acquisition, The Common Sense, was initiated through teaching and research in History of Art.

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Photo of an exhibition at the Dovecot Gallery
The Scottish Endarkenment at Dovecot Gallery
The show was curated by Andrew Patrizio and Bill Hare
Image courtesy of Stuart Armitt

Student, Eve Ryan, talks to Professor Andrew Patrizio about curating ‘The Scottish Endarkenment’.


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