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Introducing: East Wing Biennial

Since its inception in 1991, the East Wing Biennial has exhibited works of contemporary artists at one of the most prestigious centres of art historical study – The Courtauld Institute. The first collection was single-handedly organised by Courtauld undergraduate, Joshua Compston. Having studied Fine Art at Camberwell before coming to the Courtauld, Compston was well-placed between the world of practical art and art criticism. Equipped with the skills to organise an exhibition, he did so in a manner which would demonstrate the importance of contemporary art in the study of the past. He displayed artworks, many provided by close friends, in the seminar rooms of the Institute for two years. In doing so, he positioned art in what he believed to be its ‘rightful position’ of our everyday surroundings. Contemporary art was given a new place and new power to act on and change its audiences.

For the past few months, the student-led East Wing committee has been working hard on the twelfth edition of the Biennial. As the team works on different aspects of the exhibition, the Digital Media team has been revisiting the various artists who have previously exhibited in the Biennial through a series of blogposts. We have written about artists such as Darren Coffield and Ian Davenport, both of whom had works that were a part of the first Courtauld Loan Collection in the East Wing. Coffield, a central figure of the YBAs, had worked closely with Compston and collaborated in the establishment of Compston’s gallery, Factual Nonsense. Davenport, a Turner Prize nominee in the year 1991, also exhibited his work at the Courtauld alongside Coffield. The Courtauld Loan Collection also featured works by British painter Fiona Rae, collaborative duo Langlands and Bell, Andrew Sabin and Damien Hirst.

But that was only the beginning. Following exhibitions have featured a variety of works in different media and by artists from diverse backgrounds. Building on the foundation laid by Compston, committees have since organised exhibitions including both the works of established artists and that of rising student artists. As the years have gone on, the scope of the exhibitions has broadened too. In 1996, the East Wing committee introduced sculpture and photography into its exhibition for the first time. In 2012, the committee introduced artworks that interacted explicitly with the space of the Courtauld. This was the year that Gabriel Dawe’s site-specific sculpture Plexus no.11 brought colour to the back staircase of the Institute, allowing students and audiences to experience their surroundings in a new, exciting manner.

Visit our website to discover more about our history. We hope you will enjoy the East Wing Biennial’s twelfth edition, opening on 29th January 2016.

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