Sarah Wilson


  • Strand, Somerset House

    WC2R 0RN London

    United Kingdom

1980 …2022

Research activity per year

Personal profile


Sarah Wilson is an art historian and curator whose interests extend from post-war and Cold War Europe and the USSR to contemporary global art. She was educated at the University of Oxford (BA English Literature) and at the Courtauld, where she took her MA and PhD degrees. She joined The Courtauld’s faculty in 1982.  She was Head of the Modern and Contemporary Section at the Courtauld from 2005-Spring 2008 and has been Head of Diploma programmes during 2014-2015.

In 2010-11, with Mellon Professor Boris Groys (New York University) Sarah Wilson initiated the MA course, ‘Global Conceptualism’, which links Anglo-American conceptual art and European lineages stemming from Mallarmé, Duchamp and structural linguistics, with conceptual art practices originating in Moscow or taken up beyond the ‘first’ world.  She takes an active role in CCRAC, the Cambridge-Courtauld Russian Art Centre, with the contemporary exhibition and talks programme of Calvert 22 which reaches out to Russia and Eastern Europe, and with Pushkin House in London.    From 2013 she expanded  her ‘Global Conceptualism’ MA remit with an interest in modern and contemporary Asia.  In 2014 she was appointed to the curatorial team of the 1st Asian Biennale (China-Guangzhou).

Recognised as the  international English-language expert on Post-War European art,  including French Stalinism,  neo-Marxism and the arts,  regularly lectures and teaches in Paris – as  Professor at Paris-IV Sorbonne ( 2002-4), with Serge Lemoine  (former director of the Musée d’Orsay) when she also produced a report  on the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, commissioned by the French Minister for Research; at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (2006-7);  and at the Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin where she held a chaire d’excellence(2012-13). She has served on doctoral juries for Paris-Sorbonne 1 and IV, VIII, the Universities of Lille and Bordeaux. In 1997 she was appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres for services to French art and culture.

Sarah’s  major publications include : Paris, Capital of the Arts,1900-1968 (Royal Academy, 2002), a substantial livre–catalogue and the standard publication on the subject, and The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations. A second volumeThe Visual World of French Theory II: interventions (in preparation) will challenge the ‘Figurations‘ volume, with an emphasis on conceptual art, performance and film.

At the Courtauld, the doctoral and MA theses Sarah Wilson has supervised now constitute a unique English-language archive in the field of post-1945 European and Soviet/Russian art history, many leading to important publications.  Former students are a source of particular pride. Many now hold prominent positions in academia, museums and galleries in Britain including: Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the British Council, London galleries such as the Hauser and Wirth, Timothy Taylor and White Cube, at the Universities of London, Cambridge, and Bristol ; and beyond the UK: the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, the Phoenix Museum of Art, the French Ministry of Culture, the Kunsthalle, Bremen, and the University of Amsterdam.

Research interests

  • Post war Eastern and Western European art
  • Cold War heritages including in USSR/Russia and China
  • Contemporary art and its memories
  • Academies and avant-gardes, 20th and 21st centuries


  • BA History of Art Year 2: Texts and Contexts, Mallarmé to Matisse
  • Graduate Diploma History of Art: Beyond Black, Contemporary Culture in Britain Now
  • MA History of Art: Global Conceptualism, the last avant-garde or a new beginning?

Special Awards, Honours & Distinctions


  • AICA International Distinguished Contribution to Art Criticism award.


  • Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres awarded by the French government for services to French culture.


  • (Oxford) Violet Vaughan Morgan University Prize for English literature, Emily Gabriel Thackeray Scholarship, College Book Prize.



  • Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin, ‘chaire d’excellence’, senior award, two year scholarship, R-Buce PATRIMA.


  • Museum of Fine Art, Houston, Brown Fellow.Dora Maar Foundation, Menherbes.


  • C.N.R.S. 3-month research grant, Centre André Chastel, Paris-Sorbonne IV.


  • British Academy small Research grant for Franco-Russian project (2010).


  • Courtauld research grant: for completion of The Visual World of French Theory and curation of Vicious Circle  exhibition (Whitechapel AG, October 2006).


  • Leverhulme Research Award (9 months Paris) preliminary research on The Visual World of French theory (I [Art&Theory] & II) three published outcomes.


  • AHRB 1+1 award (summer 2001) for Paris, Capital of the Arts.


  • Leverhulme Research Award: output ‘Revisions’ series (above).


  • British Academy Research Grant for work in the Archives de l'Art Contemporain,  Chateaugiron, The Komintern Archives, State Archives of the Russian Federation, Lenin Library Moscow, on Communism and the Visual Arts.


  • Asger Jorn travelling scholarship to Silkeborg and Aarhus, Denmark.


  • Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship.


  • Violet Vaughan Morgan University Prize for English literature,Emily Gabriel Thackeray Scholarship, (University of Oxford).

PhD Students


  • Jessica Eisenthal, ‘Temporal Dissonance in Contemporary Israeli Photography and Video’
  • Sarah Hegenbart, ‘Art in Action: Christoph Schlingensief’s Opera Village Africa and its Relation to Contemporary Art Practice’
  • Katarina Lichvarova, ‘Father and Son, Pivarov and Pepperstein’
  • Sooyoung Leam, ‘Lee Seung-Taek: Reconfiguring Avant-garde Art in Post-war Korea’

Recently completed

  • Hui-Kyung An, ‘Identities Contested: Contemporary Korean Art and its Exhibitions, 1961-1975’ (2015)
  • Aliya Abakayeva de Tiesenhausen, ‘Socialist Realist Orientalism? Depictions of Soviet Central Asia, 1934-1954’ (2010)
  • Rakhee Balaram, ‘Femmes Révolutionnaires: Women and art in 1970s France’ (2009)
  • Matthew Barr, ‘Michel Foucault and Visual Art, 1954-1988’ (2007)
  • Elizaveta Butakhova, ‘A-YA magazine: Soviet unofficial art between Moscow, Paris and New York, 1976-1986’ (2015)
  • Martina Caruso, ‘Miseria, Misericordia, Mascolinità: Italian Humanist Photography, 1932-1959’ (2012)
  • Nicholas Cullinan, ‘The Archeology of Knowledge: Excavating Arte Povera’ (2010)
  • Jacopo Galimberti, ‘Collective Art: Politics and Authorship in 1960s Western Europe,1957-1968’ (2012)
  • Mireya E. Lewin, ‘Antoni Tàpies and cultural identity: between the national   and the international’ (2009)
  • Hester Westley, ‘Traditions and Transmissions: St Martin’s Sculpture Department, 1960-1969’ (2007)
  • Nadim Samman, ‘Between the Gulag and the Guggenheim: (post) Soviet artists and New York in the 1980s and 1990s’ (2011)
  • Sylwia Serafinowicz-Wesołowska, ‘More than Documentation: Photography from the People’s Republic of Poland, 1965-1972’ (2015)

Education/Academic qualification

The Courtauld Institute of Art

… → 1992

The Courtauld Institute of Art


University of Oxford


External positions

Université de Versailles-Saint Quentin


Université de Paris-Sorbonne IV


Barbican Art Gallery



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