Image: Joan Kerr with the Dictionary of Australian Artists Working Paper 1, published in 1984

Joan Kerr: the making of a feminist art historian

Ursula Hoff Lecture 2017

Associate Professor Joanna Mendelssohn, art historian, University of New South Wales

Date: 6:30pm, 11th December 2017
Venue: Forum Theatre, Arts West Building, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic, 3010

When Professor Joan Kerr was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the year before her death in 2004, her friends were determined that her intellectual legacy should continue. The reason for this was not just friendship, nor a determination that a great feminist scholar should survive the strange machismo of Australian art historiography. Rather it was a recognition that Kerr’s inclusive approach was especially rewarding as a way of mapping Australian art and its objects. By challenging the traditional hierarchies of media and association that privileged both oil painting and networks of mateship, Kerr revealed a rich tapestry that not only expanded the number of people considered to be artists but also questioned the nature of what we call art.

Despite the radical outcomes of her research, Kerr’s methodology was based on the observational methodology of Nikolaus Pevsner and the lessons learnt by ‘reading’ the object. This public lecture will examine Joan Kerr’s eminent career and provide insights into the events and intellectual movements that shaped her thinking.

Associate Professor Joanna Mendelssohn is an art historian specialising in Australian art. A graduate of the University of Sydney, she began her career as curatorial assistant at the Art Gallery of New South Wales before becoming a writer and later an academic at the College of Fine Arts (now UNSW: Art & Design). As well as teaching Australian art history, for many years she was also Program Director for the Master of Art Administration. The author of many books, including The Life and Art of Sydney Long, (McGraw-Hill 1979); Lionel Lindsay: an artist and his family (Chatto & Windus 1988) and Letters & Liars: Norman Lindsay and the Lindsay Family (Angus & Robertson 1996), she has also curated a number of exhibitions including Larter Family Values (Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre 2006) and wrote the catalogue for The Yellow House 1970-1972 (Art Gallery of New South Wales 1990). She has written art criticism for the Sydney Morning Herald, Independent, The Bulletin and Australian; and for many years has been a contributing editor to ArtLink. Mendelssohn first met Joan Kerr in 1969 at the University of Sydney.

The Australian Institute of Art History is pleased to assist the Ursula Hoff Institute in presenting the annual Ursula Hoff Lecture for 2017 and acknowledges the generous support of the S R Stoneman Foundation.

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Enquiries: Alison Inglis