M.A. Contemporary Art

Sotheby´s Institute of Art London

Application deadline: July 31; Non EU: May 31; Scholarships: April 30
Tuition fee:
  • € 27,850 / Year (EEA)
  • € 27,850 / Year (Non-EEA)
Start date: September  2015
Duration full-time: 14 months
  • English
Delivery mode: On Campus
Educational variant: Full-time

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For over forty years Sotheby´s Institute of Art has been preparing students for careers in the international art world. Our vision is to be universally acknowledged as the premier provider of advanced object-based art education, whose graduates combine passion for the visual arts with scholarship, connoisseurship and market sophistication in order to flourish as leaders in the global art market. MA programmes at Sotheby´s Institute are validated by the University of Manchester in the UK.

The MA in Contemporary Art is an intensive programme that covers the period from 1960 to the present. Directed at students who wish to develop an in-depth understanding of contemporary art while honing their professional skills, it focuses on the art object itself and on the tools we need to understand it and to situate it in a telling context. Emphatically international in scope, the course aims to prepare students for careers in a globalised art world.
Established in 1991, the programme benefits from the vitality and international character of London as a centre for contemporary art. We regularly hold sessions in museums and galleries in the city-and the programme also includes extended study trips to other European cities, where students visit major collections, public galleries, artists´ studios and biennials.
Our core teaching combines academic study with vocational training and takes the form of lectures, seminars and one-to-one tutorials. The programme´s various strands address tendencies and debates in contemporary art, institutional structures and relevant theoretical perspectives.

Many of our graduates now hold prominent positions in the world of contemporary art, working as curators, gallerists, editors, critics, consultants and auctioneers.

For more information:


SEMESTER I. The aim is to make students aware of the full range of work made in this period (1960-2005) and the reasons for it. This forms the necessary basis for the development of the student´s own critical position.

Lectures: These form the major component of Semester I and provide a detailed chronological survey of art since 1960, divided into three chronological periods. Necessary background information on the preceding post-war years (1945-59) is thematically provided in the introductory week. Overall, the intensive course of lectures across this semester gives students the knowledge on which to build and develop their own critical position. Whilst most of the teaching is provided by the core team, approximately 25% of the lectures are given by outside specialists.

Seminars: These are held every week, in groups not exceeding twelve. Certain seminars are given over to discussions of critical texts and artists´ statements relating to the period under review. Others are more `professional´ in scope, examining, for example, comparative gallery exhibitions, public sculpture projects, art magazines and issues of quality.

Visits: These are treated as seminars, never as guided tours. The course has an object-based or ekphrastic philosophy where an understanding and appreciation of art must always begin with actual experience of the specific art object rather than theory. In order to emphasise the object-based nature of the course, visits occur frequently throughout it. In Semester I, one afternoon each week on average is allocated to visiting exhibitions in London galleries and museums. Early in the semester there is a three day visit by coach to major museums and sculpture parks of the North of England. Later, in November, there is an intensive six day study trip to Germany in order to visit museums in and around Köln, as well as the Art Fair there. There are also visits to contemporary art sales at Sotheby´s, led by experts from the auction Research Methods: In order to assist the student with further practical and academic skills necessary for a career in the contemporary art world, a series of lectures, seminars and workshops on research methods are also provided throughout this semester. Several of these are taught in conjunction with the other MA programmes at the Institute.

Guest Lecturers: In most weeks a special session takes place where guest speakers are invited to come and talk to the entire group about their work. These guests are drawn from a variety of professions within the contemporary art world including artists, curators, gallerists, editors, critics, auctioneers or consultants (see attached list of previous speakers). The talks are informal and offer students exceptional opportunities to both meet and question significant figures in the art world.

Tutorials: Each student has a personal tutor and is allocated at least five time-tabled tutorials during the semester in which to discuss his or her work and progress. Assessed ElementsAt the beginning of the third week of the course, a Research Method seminar is held to outline the range of assessed elements in Semester I, and how to approach them.

Slide Identification and Analysis Tests (SIATs): There are three of these and they take place at the end of each chronological period studied. Students are asked to identify, analyse and compare works of art from that particular period. In the third and final SIAT, students are also asked to analyse the installations of works they have actually seen in situ on visits.

Essay: At the beginning of the seventh week students are asked to hand in a 3,000word essay on some aspect of art between 1960 and 1972 (the first period to be studied in depth). The essay gives tutors the opportunity to assess at an early stage students´ literary, organisational and expository abilities, and offer appropriate advise.

Professional Studies: With help from the research methods seminars, students are asked to write a 500 word exhibition review and write two catalogue entries, one in the style of a museum catalogue and one in the style of an auction sale catalogue.

Project: This is the major element of the first semester. Students undertake one of three projects. They either produce one issue of a hypothetical art magazine (this must be as a part of a collaborative venture), or present a proposal for a hypothetical exhibition in a commercial gallery, or alternatively present a proposal for a hypothetical exhibition in a public funded gallery. Each project must include an illustrated critical essay of 3,000 words. Students work in groups to learn teamwork skills. There is also the possibility of making a proposal for a hypothetical corporate collection.

SEMESTER II. Students are expected to further develop their own critical positions, their ability to research and to present arguments.

Seminars: Students take a more independent, leading role in presenting their own work and hence, the seminars form the main component of Semester II. The presentation of ideas by one student in each seminar is followed by active discussion and constructive criticism from the rest of the group. Two separate seminar strands take place. In the first strand, "Network," each student presents in a seminar a research paper on an aspect of the art network such as galleries, collections, museums or magazines. The purpose of the Network strand is to examine how the art world works. In the second strand, students present each in a seminar a research paper on some aspect of the "Interchange of Word and Image", that is, the connections between objects and the written word: what are the ideas behind a work of art? How do we interpret it? This seminar strand analyses issues of intention, meaning, interpretation and criticism.

Lectures: A course of about extended lectures entitled Exhibition as Proposition is a major component of the semester. The lectures analyse in detail major international exhibitions which have had a significant impact on art and the art world in recent years. They address such issues as how and why the shows were successful, the intentions of the curators, the nature of the events themselves and their critical reception, as well as looking at exhibition making in general. A further series of lectures (Artist in Focus) looks at key individual artists in detail. A further series examines movements in art that were perhaps not fully discussed in the first semester and which may act as challenges to the canon of accepted mainstream art.

Options: Each student will take one substantial option course in the second semester. Options offered include: Starting and Managing a Contemporary Art Business in which students are taught the legal, management and business skills needed to run successful gallery or art business; Contemporary Art in Asia, run in collaboration with the MA in East Asian Art this looks at the role of tradition and innovation in art made today in Asia also looking at the development of the art network in this rapidly expanding area; Critical Issues in Photography, run in collaboration with MA in Photography, examines contemporary photography and the issues around it in depth. Visits: As in Semester I, an afternoon every week is given over to visiting galleries, museums, collections or artists´ studios. There is also a three-day visit to Holland. The Semester concludes with a four day visit to a biennale in Europe Guest Lectures: As in Semester I, there will be a visiting lecturer on most weeks. Theoretical Studies: There will be a series of seminars focusing on aspects of Contemporary thought: selected writings by such thinkers as Bataille, Foucault, Kristeva, Baudrillard, Danto and Hal Foster are read in advance and discussed in seminar groups. The purpose of this series is to examine some of the theoretical ideas that have been referred to in art and art criticism of recent years and to assess their possible application to examples of recent art and practice.

Tutorials: As in Semester I, each student has a personal tutor whom he or she meets at least five times during the semester.

Assessed Elements:Extended Research Papers: Two papers are written as the result of research produced for the two seminar strands, "Network" and "Interchange of Word and Image". Each paper must be 4,000 words long. The chosen option will also include an essay requirement

Slide Examination: Following the example of the last SIAT of Semester I, students are asked to analyse and discuss slides of work seen in the visits of Semester II. They are also asked to consider the way in which the work was originally exhibited.

Dissertation proposal: Students must present a short research proposal for their dissertation topic both as a seminar and in written form in the early weeks of Semester III. Those students not proceeding to Semester III must do an essay. N.B. Transition to Semester III depends upon the successful completion of Semesters I and II. Students who successfully complete the first two semesters, but who either are considered unlikely to complete a dissertation successfully or who opt not to do a dissertation, will be awarded a Postgraduate Diploma.

SEMESTER III In this semester students develop a more specialised area of study, show their ability to research in an extended manner, weigh evidence and present a complex argument. They will spend the rest of the semester researching and writing a 12,000-15,000 word dissertation. Students need not be resident in London for all of this period, but tutorial assistance will be available throughout.


All postgraduate programmes (Master´s Degrees and Postgraduate Diplomas) require the completion of a BA degree or equivalent, with a major or minor in Art History. Exceptions to the undergraduate art history requirement can be made, based upon an applicant's experience in the visual arts or the relevance of other areas of study.

Transcripts. Transcripts are required for entry onto one of our Master´s Degrees or Postgraduate Diplomas. Please forward your official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate-level programmes attended directly to the Institute from your college or university.

Letters of Recommendation. You will need to designate 2 referees to support your application. These can be both academic references or, in case you have working experience, one can be a professional reference.

Sample of Written Work. You will be required to include in your application a marked paper (from your BA course) or a newly-written 1000-word review of an art exhibition or artist that you like

Interviews. All full-time applicants for postgraduate programmes will be invited to schedule an interview with a member of the Institute's staff after receipt of all required application materials. Interviews will be scheduled by the Admissions Manager. You will be contacted at the appropriate time to make such arrangements. The interviewer will assess the candidate's aptitude for the programme, level of English skill and commitment to study. Interviews are held in London throughout the year and can also be conducted by telephone.

UK Visa Applications

In line with the new UK Border Agency rules all non-EU students must now apply for a Tier 4 Points Based System General Adult student visa, details of which can be found at:
Students from non EU countries are strongly recommended to submit their application as early as possible. Please note that new visa requirements mean that after a student is enrolled the visa process may take up to 10 weeks. Visas must be applied for in your home country and NOT once you have arrived in the UK.

English Language Requirements

IELTS band: 7
TOEFL iBT® test: 100

IMPORTANT NOTE: Per 6 April 2015 only the English language tests from IELTS and Trinity College London are accepted for Tier 4 Visa applications to the United Kingdom. Other tests (including TOEFL, TOEIC, Pearson, City & Guilds) are no longer accepted for Tier 4 visa applications to the United Kingdom. The university might still accept these tests to admit you to the university, but if you require a Tier 4 visa to enter the UK and begin your degree programme, these tests will not be sufficient to obtain your Visa. Since the Trinity College London language tests must be taken in one of their exam centres in the UK, IELTS is now the only language test accepted for Tier 4 visas to the UK that can be taken worldwide.

The IELTS test is most widely accepted by universities and is also accepted for Tier 4 visas to the UK- learn more.



Our degrees are awarded by the University of Manchester in the UK and combine professional training with academic study.


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