Alexandra Bircken’s 'The Doctor' donated to The Hunterian

Published: 14 December 2021

Alexandra Bircken’s 'The Doctor' donated to The Hunterian in Glasgow through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society Scheme.

Alexandra Bircken’s 'The Doctor' donated to The Hunterian in Glasgow through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society Scheme. 

VN XX CAS encourages debate on the gender imbalance in UK museum collections.

A major work by Alexandra Bircken, The Doctor, 2020, has been acquired for the The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VNXXCAS) initiative. The museum is receiving the work through this scheme after making a strong case for addressing the representation of women artists within their existing collections.

Bircken is known for her sculptures and installations, for which she draws on an unusually wide range of found materials. The human body is almost always the focus of her work, with its complex states and conditions, how it is covered and protected, and its variety of desires.

The Doctor exemplifies many of these characteristic qualities of Alexandra Bircken’s art. Its constituent materials include a surgical gown (a souvenir of the artist’s own treatment for a knee injury), a section from a discarded Christmas tree (set into a prosthetic joint), and a bisected wooden toy boat as its ‘head’, a form which seen in profile becomes redolent both of a scalpel blade and a plague mask. The smiley-face pattern on the gown from a hospital in Berlin extends across the whole body – skin and cloth have become one, the patient as an object as opposed to an individual.

The Hunterian’s historical collections originate in Dr William Hunter’s 18th-century anatomical work and in his scientific and artistic collection of objects from around the world. Whereas Hunter’s focus was with objective rationality – most significantly with his influential study of pregnancy and the female body – Bircken’s The Doctor is assembled from cultural materials animated by her own sensory experience, informed by her experience as a woman artist.

Dr Dominic Paterson, Curator of Contemporary Art at The Hunterian, said: "The acquisition of Alexandra Bircken's The Doctor brings a powerful sculptural statement to The Hunterian. We are thrilled to be able to bring this piece into contact with the artistic and scientific objects in our collection, many of which manifest 18th-century worldviews that were encyclopaedic in ambition but always partial in reality, not least in respect of gender. We look forward to discovering how The Doctor will animate and agitate our collections in future exhibitions and displays."

Caroline Douglas, Director, Contemporary Art Society, said: “Like a mythic apparition, Alexandra Birken's enigmatic figure, The Doctor, stirs powerful subconscious responses in the viewer. Inevitably, it takes on particular resonance at this moment in history, but it's relationship to the historic collections at The Hunterian will be read and re-read many times over in future. It's wonderful to see such a major work enter the collection in Glasgow.”

Valeria Napoleone said: “I am extremely proud of Alexandra Bircken’s exceptional sculpture, The Doctor, to be gifted to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow this year. This work significantly reflects the artist’s interest in and extensive exploration of the human condition. Through her eclectic and experimental practice, she pushes boundaries and offers a new vocabulary and a unique language in sculpture.”

Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VN XX CAS) is a joint initiative of philanthropist Valeria Napoleone and the Contemporary Art Society. The scheme purchases and donates a significant work by a living female artist each year to a UK museum that has made a strong case for addressing the representation of female artists within their existing collections. Past acquisitions have included work by Mary Kelly for Royal Pavilion & Museums, Bernie Searle for Manchester Art Gallery, Martine Syms for Leeds Art Gallery and Aliza Nisenbaum for Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.

The Doctor is currently on show in an exhibition of Alexandra Bircken’s work at Museum Brandhorst, Munich until 16 January, after which the exhibition will travel to Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain in Sète, France. The Doctor will go on show at The Hunterian in late 2022. A film about The Doctor and an In-Conversation with Alexandra Bircken and Monika Beyer, Curator at Museum Brandhorst, Munich, is available to view.

For more information or to join the talk please contact:
Marcus Crofton, Senior Communications & Campaigns Manager, Contemporary Art Society
+44 (0)20 7017 8412

Notes to Editors

The Contemporary Art Society champions the collecting of outstanding contemporary art and craft in the UK. Since 1910 the charity has donated thousands of works by living artists to museums, from Picasso, Bacon, Hepworth and Moore in their day, through to the influential artists of our times. Sitting at the heart of cultural life in the UK, the Contemporary Art Society brokers philanthropic support for the benefit of museums and their audiences across the entire country. Their work ensures that the story of art continues to be told now and for future generations.

Alexandra Bircken (b.1967, Cologne, Germany) lives and works in Berlin and Munich. Recent solo exhibitions include Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2021); Herald St, London; Fridericianum, Kassel (both 2020); and Secession, Vienna (2019). Recent group exhibitions include Baltic, Gateshead; Nottingham Contemporary (both 2020); and the Hepworth Wakefield (2019). Bircken holds a Professorship at Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich.

The oldest public museum in Scotland, with collections spanning arts, sciences and humanities, The Hunterian is at the forefront of university museums around the world. Since it opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807 The Hunterian has been an invaluable academic and community resource. Recognising that it has also been shaped by systematic exclusions and inequalities, The Hunterian is committed to becoming a more meaningful place for more diverse audiences.

As a university gallery and museum, The Hunterian creates space for intellectual inquiry and a process of learning and experimentation. The Hunterian collection’s Enlightenment history created a repository of knowledge that materialises the problematic history of Western modernity and its fundamentally colonial and capitalist underpinnings. Taking this as point of departure and critical reflection, The Hunterian’s contemporary art programme seeks to interrogate the institution’s genealogy, and to introduce different perspectives into its spaces. Working with a wide range of artists on acquisitions, commissions, exhibitions and events, our contemporary art programme allows The Hunterian to find new ways of using our historic collections to understand the contemporary world.

Valeria Napoleone is an art collector and patron to a number of arts organisations. A Trustee of the Contemporary Art Society and Head of the Development Committee at Studio Voltaire, Napoleone also sits on the board of the Institute of Fine Arts in NYC and is a member of the NYU President’s Global Council. In addition to Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society, Napoleone runs Valeria Napoleone XX SculptureCenter as a collaborative project that supports the production of a major artwork in a selected exhibition every 12 to 18 months at the New York-based non-profit space dedicated to contemporary sculpture. The first artist to be supported under this scheme, Anthea Hamilton, was nominated for the 2016 Turner Prize for the resulting exhibition.

Valeria Napoleone received a BA from New York University’s Journalism School and an MA in Art Gallery Administration at the Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC. Her collection focuses on female contemporary artists working internationally. Forming an exceptionally close bond with artists, Napoleone has supported many of today’s most acclaimed artists at pivotal moments in their careers.

First published: 14 December 2021