New Hunterian exhibitions premiere works by leading contemporary artists

Published: 31 October 2022

New exhibitions premiere works by leading contemporary artists Alexandra Bircken and Elizabeth Price

Alexandra Bircken: The Doctor 
4 November 2022–12 February 2023  
Hunterian Art Gallery 
Admission free 

Elizabeth Price: UNDERFOOT 
11 November 2022–16 April 2023 
Hunterian Art Gallery 
Admission free 

Two new contemporary art exhibitions will open at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, this November. The Hunterian’s new major acquisition The Doctor by Alexandra Bircken will be on display for the first time from 4 November and from 11 November, visitors will be able to see UNDERFOOT, a new solo exhibition from Turner Prize-winning artist Elizabeth Price.  

The Doctor was acquired for the The Hunterian through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VNXXCAS) initiative, a scheme which addresses the under-representation of women artists in museum collections by making one donation each year of a major work by a living artist. The Hunterian has received the work after making a strong case for addressing the representation of women artists within their existing collections.  

UNDERFOOT is Elizabeth Price’s first solo exhibition in Scotland and features a new moving image work and textile piece. Referencing and employing never before exhibited archival material, the exhibition focuses on the textile heritage of Glasgow’s industrial age. 

Bircken’s sculptural practice utilizes sharp contrasts of materials and textures to construct an artistic language that stresses physicality and embodiment. Her signature works often feature found objects ranging from high-end technology to more modest materials including fragments of the natural world or fabrics. The Doctor is a key example of this approach. The work’s materials include a surgical gown, a section from a discarded Christmas tree that has been set into a prosthetic joint, and a bisected and inverted wooden toy boat that forms its ‘head’. Seen in profile, this head becomes redolent both of a scalpel blade and a plague mask. The ‘smiley-face’ pattern on the gown from Berlin’s Vivantes hospital extends across the whole body and has been padded as if to form a protective layer around the body. The work invokes both the risk of damage to bodies and the possibility of rebuilding or recovery.

The Doctor is joined by a selection of works drawn from The Hunterian collection that resonate with its themes and forms. This includes works by Max Ernst which show his interest in creating surreal hybrid bodies using collage and frottage techniques. A suite of contemporary prints by Claire Barclay respond to medical imagery from William Hunter’s collection and suggest bodily layers, while Fiona Banner’s work Superhuman Nude uses language to represent the body of a Paralympic athlete. A 19th-century print shows a scene from the London plague, connecting to the plague mask hinted at in The Doctor and anticipating the pandemic conditions that gripped the world shortly after Bircken had made the work in 2020. 

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 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. 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. 

Visitors to the Hunterian Art Gallery will be able to see The Doctor on display until 12 February 2023. UNDERFOOT will be on display until 16 April 2023. 

Further information

Contact Rachel Hughes at for more information. 

Notes to editors

About the artists

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.

Elizabeth Price (b. 1966, Bradford, UK) has exhibited in group exhibitions internationally, and has had solo exhibitions at Tate Britain, UK; The Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, USA; Chicago Institute of Art, USA; Julia Stoschek Foundation, Dusseldorf and The Baltic, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. In 2012, Price was awarded the Turner Prize in 2013, she won the Contemporary Art Society Annual Award with the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums, Oxford.

The Hunterian Contemporary Art Programme

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. It is committed to becoming a more meaningful place for more diverse audiences.

Hunterian’s contemporary art programme responds to and interacts with The Hunterian collections, spaces and histories to make new connections and to reflect people, ideas and stories. The Hunterian collection’s historic foundation is a repository of knowledge that materialises the problematic history of Western society and its fundamentally colonial and capitalist underpinnings. Taking this as a 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.

The Hunterian’s University context creates room for intellectual inquiry and a process of learning and experimentation. As one of the few purpose-built art galleries in Glasgow — a city renowned for its large art community—The Hunterian offers a space in which work by emerging local artists and more established international practitioners can be exhibited to wide and diverse audiences, enabling connection, reflection and experimentation.

Since 2017, The Hunterian has featured solo exhibitions by artists such as Neil Clements, Ilana Halperin, Alex Impey, Ulrike Ottinger and Jimmy Robert. Group exhibitions have included works by, among others: Sarah Browne; Phil Collins; Tacita Dean; Manthia Diawara; Andrew Kerr; Nalini Malani; Jade Montserrat; Shahryar Nashat; Otobong Nkanga; Charlotte Prodger; Carol Rhodes; Margaret Salmon; Simon Starling; Corin Sworn.

Hunterian has also supported projects with John Gerrard (a major outdoor video installation for COP26), Elisabeth Schilling (a week of dance performances and a symposium in 2019). They have undertaken collaborations with other arts organisations, including The Common Guild, Goethe Institute Glasgow, Glasgow International, Film and Video Umbrella, Leeds Arts University, and the Roberts Institute of Art, all of which have brought benefits through co-funding and knowledge exchange.

The Hunterian have commissioned new works from artists including: Claire Barclay, Alex Impey, Neil Clements, Minty Donald & Nick Millar, Louise Hopkins, and Georgina Starr (in partnership with Art Fund, FVU and GI). We have received funding awards from VNXXCAS 2021, CAS Rapid Response Fund 2020, Art Fund Moving Image Fund for Museums (2018), Henry Moore Institute (2018), the Kingdom of the Netherlands Embassy (2021).

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First published: 31 October 2022