Postgraduate Academies and their Contracts





  'The Academy has at its disposal all the benefits an artist could ever reckon with, and all the means of power suited to intimidating an artist. It awards state posts, public commissions and titles; it has a monopoly on art teaching and has the possibility of monitoring the development of the artist from his first beginnings to his definitive deployment; it bestows prizes, above all the Rome Prize, and pensions; it allows or denies participation in exhibitions or competitions; the views of art which it represents enjoy particular respect in the eyes of the public and guarantee preferment from the outset for the artist who keeps to them’

Arnold Hauser ‘Sozialgeschichte der Kunst and Literatur’, Munich 1953



Discussion of contemporary art education revolved in the last decade of the 20th century increasingly around the training of specialists at Postgraduate Academies.

For many of these institutions, which owe their existence to a foundation euphoria in the 1960s and 70s, this new attention is tantamount to a revitalisation; after all, in the 1980s the model was looking pretty threadbare[1]. The revaluation of these institutions can also be understood as a symptom of the stagnation of the traditional, “undergraduate“ art colleges.

For unlike the art colleges, which are if anything traditional in their approach, the postgraduate institute trains its students not so much to produce works of art as to distribute them.

But above all it aims at the distribution of those who are now progressing from being producers of art to producers of culture.

The greater weighting given to distribution, however, goes hand-in-hand with increasing competition, which is also taking place in the cultural sector. The postgraduate institutes thus frequently operate with the promises of success such as one associates with smaller and (semi-)private elite schools[2].

It will come as no surprise to discover that most postgraduate institutes have a company-like character. So can we already speak of corporate academies?

Even if these institutions have not (yet) been “in-corporated“ by supranational companies, it is worth examining the extent to which the postgraduate academies have internalised the changed parameters of so-called ‘Turbo’ capitalism in their own organisation and teaching[3].

Will these changes redefine the role of art and artists in our society? In this regard, it is worth examining whether or not a promise of  “internationalism“ does not point to a Western-dominance tendency, especially when it relates to the so-called periphery, outside the sphere of Western culture.

The reasons for the new upgrading of the postgraduate institutes are many and various

In Europe we must look at them against the background of the failure of 1980s’ art. In the early 1990s the market for an art which primarily manifested itself in the production of objects was for the time being saturated. As in other areas of society, so in art too, the distribution and the provision of a service became more important than the production of the products to be distributed. The software became more important than the hardware.

The demand for information to help with the understanding of these important social and economic changes led, in the area of the visual arts, to an inceased interest in theory and following on from this, to its importation and distribution in the art sector. In this phase of uncertainty and restructuring, the postgraduate institutes promised orientation, an information advantage, and specialisation. In this changed situation, this could lead to a critique of the conditions and also to improved competitiveness.

In the wake of the Anglo-american import theory came the rediscovery of “Cultural Studies“ and “Gender Studies“ and thus an interdisciplinary social and political approach to teaching.

However, the operations and the organisation structure of the colleges were inspired more by the efficiency and rationalisation programmes of the “New Economy“ such as were circulating in the early 1990s in the (business) community. This re-organisation also brought other, economistic and culturalistic, models into the equation together with a new language to accompany them.

In particular the small Postgraduate Institutes are and were receptive to such influences: after all, they can be changed in a short space of time. Under the aspect of neoliberal organisational structures and doctrine, one could speak of an “experimental programmability“ for setting new standards. This makes them interesting objects of study.

But alongside the voluntary or unconscious adoption of post-Ford rhetoric, pressure has also been exerted from ministerial quarters. Increasingly, the award of grants is being linked to the successful placement of graduates[4].

In preparation for a homogenisation of education structures, the period since the 1980s has seen a spate of national administrative and institute reforms[5]. Sooner or later, a uniform adjustment to the Anglo-American educational system will have been completed throughout Europe.

Thus in continental Europe, too, a system of education is gaining ground which began very early in its history to privatise even general school education, which implies nothing more or less than that the quality of the education will, more than ever, reflect the financial possibilities of the student.


There are two circumstances in which one can speak of a Corporate Academy:

The first is when the academy iself develops corporate structures which accord with the new conditions of “lean management“ and “corporate identity“. The extent to which such an academy then becomes an “entrepreneur“ itself, and/or can be privatised and incorporated, is of less interest.

The second is when the academy trains artists who occupy a stabilising role within an increasingly corporate public. To go into this question, however, one would have to digress and investigate the extent to which the general cultural situation is already subject to “corporate“ conditions.[6]

Against this background, however, it would be worth investigating how affirmatively or critically the ideas of art, culture and society put across at the academies behave in the face of the new conditions. This is also true of the distribution channels chosen by the individual institutes.

Into which situations are the young culture-producers inducted, and how do they behave when they are there? Do they not become mere content providers for the context providers? In other words, can they give expression to their artistic concerns at all without at the same time serving an image-policy in global competition? For are many of “our“ new biennales not primarily municipal advertising designed to upgrade the city in question in the international location league-table?

Is it not a training directed at obsequious acceptance of these conditions, when the desire produced, and the channels of distribution, are precisely geared to them? Or how else can a contemporary, future-oriented art education take this “corporate“ situation into account?

Is there such a thing as the Corporate Academy anyway?

Don’t worry! The following depiction of a corporate academy is dramatised and accordingly fictitious. This academy is constructed from concepts deriving from the logic of contemporary economics; it is permeated by actual situations prevailing in existing postgraduate institutes.

Anyone wishing to attend such an academy first enters a conflict-free space. The institute makes it clear that it is, and must be, there for every student, because of the great financial and human investment in every individual student.

“We hardly ever lose a student“ they say with great self-confidence. “As a result, there is boundless confidence and optimism on the part of the young generation. And the young artists discover that they are not forced to struggle against a system that takes no interest in them.“[7]

This phenomenon is matched by friendly, non-hierarchical organisations and teamwork, such as are currently being propagated in other workplaces too, since they promote identification with the company.

The Academy offers to work out aims and goals interactively. The Principal stresses this co-operative aspect in his / her welcoming speech: “…if you give your all and pursue your aims radically, then we too shall give our all.“ 

The two partners work out a common goal: the students’ art is a means to their career, and the careers serve to help the Academy carve out its own profile. The aim is to build up a successful image. Success, if it comes, is shared, and the Academy relates it to its own structure.

Alongside arrangements such as copyright and profit participation, a half-yearly balance-sheet lists all the exhibitions, grants or prizes held or won by students and staff. On the internet can be found lists of works by all former students and staff, reaching back to the institution’s beginnings. These lists are constantly updated, since the institution has employed someone to maintain contact with the alumni and alumnae.

The institution thus sees itself as a club, which binds its members together for life[8]. It’s now one big happy family. In the formulation “and if it is really necessary for you to go into space, then we shall rent you a place on MIR…“ the Academy makes clear its dual self-image as “parent“ and partner. The “children“ or “participants“ form a kind of investment potential, so there is an attempt to give them “everything“.

The Corporate Academy has a major interest in publicity: to the outside world, the college opens out into an established contact-and-crony network whose strands lead right into the centre of the art business. The chances of a felicitous distribution of students rise with the quality of the overlap between inside and outside.

The academy tries, while preserving its exclusivity, to take a share in the artistic sphere surrounding it and to gain influence over it. It further tries to extend its share of influence. This works above all when it enjoys the protection of successful graduates. By trying to connect up the branching generations of former students, it installs itself into other areas and institutions.

The postgraduate academy thus sees its competence not just in the training of artists: it would like to create schools, generate a “scene“.

In other words it wants to produce artistic discourses which are known worldwide and attributed to the Academy. In the world of business this is known as “branding“, “image-building“ or “corporate identity“. This construction of an identity begins inside the Academy.

Internally, it reflects – albeit in simplified form – the exterior, in other words the art business with its various functions: already established artists stand alongside novices, critics extend their hand to curators, there are grants and small exhibitions, an administration which has contacts or material resources to allocate. During their two-year stay, the participants can thus rehearse all the behaviour necessary for the scene outside.

Nonetheless, attention is paid to efficiency: non-productivity, absences and criticism of the college organism are seen as poor investments and draw down sanctions upon them accordingly. Even at the admission interview, attempts are made to forestall any inadequate identification: “…do you really intend to be present and ready to communicate for years ahead...?“

Such demands for unconditional support were made hitherto only by the professor at the traditional academy of art. The genius represented a challenge and formed the centre of all communication. But now the postgraduate academy is taking on this role here too.

This degree of commitment is only required in relation to unconditionality of communication and identification with the building in which teaching takes place. Even though the academy actually seeks to avoid this, in the end it only achieves the same as the professor of a master class, namely the affirmation of the teaching, its re-production.

This re-production is what constitutes a (corporate) identity and can be seen in the postgraduate institutions in the sense of school or style formation. It is also disseminated on an international scale by an “optimum“ distribution of the artists it produces.

In this way, the Academy multiplies and distributes itself, it intervenes in the debate about postgraduate academies, it sees itself as a prototype whose structure is transferable to other places.


Almost all postgraduate institutes are located in large western cities. But they are usually more international in their composition and orientation than undergraduate institutes[9].

However, the conditions of admission represent a curious sort of filter. Often, it is not so much the artistic qualifications of the students as their finances which determines whether or not they are admitted. At British institutes, for example, students from “overseas“ often pay more than three times as much as home students in tuition fees and are often only admitted in order to beef up the college’s financial position[10].

So although all the institutes make great play with the international composition and connexions of their student body, they are nonetheless all devoted to a Western or European idea of art and culture. They behave no differently from such unambiguously national cultural promotion bodies as NIFCA in Scandinavia, the Mondrian Stichting in the Netherlands or the British Council[11].

The artists are usually placed or exchanged only in those locations where a (real) market or publicity programme (cultural representation) promises benefits.

“INTERNATIONAL“ in this context is not a cross-border characteristic serving to communicate about, or between, differences, but rather represents the introduction of a new standard: a homogenised distribution system with the name “international“.

The only ones allowed to take part are those who adapt to the same market and distribution conditions. Difference is not to be confused with dissidence, but stands here for a colourful multicultural variety in the product range.

Precisely because the postgraduate academy, in obedience to the hegemony of the global market, distributes its (Western) “products“ worldwide, it is reasonable to ask to what extent these have already become the standard.

The Rijkskademie is currently seeking to establish itself as the scene of a cultural exchange. It is here that the development of the RAIN project (Rijksakademie International Network) is being promoted (cf. the Guide to Studies, Rijksakademie van beeldene Kunsten, Amsterdam). Should not the Academy make itself the subject of its own research? Would this not include some historical reflexion, in order to develop an awareness of the partially shared colonial past?

It is doubtless not easy to confront the problem of cultural differences. After all, it looks as though the nomadic curators of the (Western) art business are travelling the (Third) world as once the ethnologists of the 19th century did: and suddenly everything lands up in the museum...

And is the hysterical charging up of “postcolonial“ discourses in the run-up to the symbolic capital formation of Dokumenta XI more likely to help or harm the cause? And what is the “cause“, anyway? Is there a concept of art at all, outside the “neo-colonial“ expansion and incorporation models?

Here at the end of my considerations I should like to refer to the seminar “sounding difference“ by Sarat Maharaj and Anni Fletcher, which describes dealings with social difference and the coresponding “cultural translation work“. It was developed at the Jan van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht (cf. Guide to Studies):

“What re-shaping of “difference“ and “otherness“ is being undertaken in the name of tolerance? According to the usual notions of tolerance, the self is spared to too great a degree. In such cases, tolerance becomes an organ with which to administer and control difference and otherness. Repressive tolerance expresses itself as the “need to assimilate“ and follows the logic of sameness. Against this, there is self-reflexive, critical tolerance.

In this tense debate, the transposed scene of cultural translation emerges as a place of non-concludable existential and ethical encounter.“

That sounds all very well. But who is going to go beyond this and ask about solidarity within difference, against the repressions of a homogenising economy?

[1] De Ateliers was formed in 1963; the Whitney Study Program in 1979. In the late 1980s Goldsmiths’ College in London was restructured. This measure has often been seen as the basis of the Britpop success story. In 1992 both the Rijksakademie van Beeldene Kunsten  in Amsterdam and the Jan van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht were re-organised. In 1993 de ateliers (studio 63) moved from Haarlem to the former Rijksakademie building in Amsterdam. 1997 saw the opening of the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Kitakyushu (Japan). For a  postgraduate training oriented to the so-called New Media, we should mention the Cologne Akademie für Neue Medien and the ZKM in Karlsruhe.
At the same time, various “artist in residence“ programmes were established, which, however, we shall not go into any further here, since they do not include any teaching activities of any sort: the oldest of these programmes is the Cité Internationale des Arts founded in 1957 in Paris. The PS1 was opened in New York in 1976. The Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin was occupied by artists in 1974 and subsequently converted into “artist in residence“ institution, whose studios are let to state governments or foundations. A comparable institution is Schloss Solitude, founded near Stuttgart in 1990.

[2] For the artists who took part in Manifesta 2 the interval between leaving college and this major exhibition was about two years. On average, they had attended at least two colleges, of which one was mostly a postgraduate institute. One in nine participants in this exhibition had graduated from the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam.

cf.: “Manifesta 2“ catalogue, Luxembourg, 1998

[3] on this, cf.: “Seán Kimber and Simon Periton chat to Merlin Carpenter and Nils Norman about St. Martins and the changes that have recently occurred there. Tuesday 13th December 1994.“ p 240-257 in AKADEMIE, Stephan Dillemuth 1995 Permanent Press Verlag.

St. Martins basically halved the resources and doubled the student intake at that time. They lost the validation from the Council for National Academic Awards. Degrees are awarded today based on a selfvalidated ‘independence’. St. Martins claims to “own“ the work that is produced inside of the school. They take a percentage from any work sold in degree exhibitions. The staff are paid “performance related“: number of students placed and number of students retained on the course and fee paying.

And what is the final operation? The College wants a production line, eye-catching, selfadvertising. The degree show is a product and if the student has a good career, that’s good product for the college.

[4] The self-presentation of the “Royal College Of Art“ reads in this context as if it had been written to illustrate the point: “The Royal College has been described as…the best of pre-professional training, rightly admired all over the world. To verify this statement, the college has recently competed a major and long overdue statistical survey covering the last five years which reveals that an average of  92.5 % of graduates have gone on to work at the right levels in areas for which the College helped to equip and educate them. In Computer Related Design, the figure is 100 %, in Vehicle Design 98 %, in fashion 98 %, in Painting and Sculpture 92 %.“ (see

In the same vein, the Goldsmiths College Postgraduate Prospectus Entry 2001, p. 129: “In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise (1996), we were one of the only two university departments in the UK to receive the top rating 5* - indicating national and international  excellence  - for research in Art and Design.“

[5] For the “traditional“ Düsseldorf Academy this means that an albeit limited theoretical course culminating in a diploma has been tied to the free art course. At the same time, the length of the course, which used to be at the discretion of the teacher (15 semesters or more was not unusual), has been formally limited to 10 semesters. Maybe this is why the free “undergraduate“ art course has become too short for the “self-discovery processes“.

The formal equivalent in German academies to the “international“ postgraduate status - a  “Meisterjahr“ [“master’s year“] or one-year follow-on course – provides nothing new content-wise; it is merely a prolongation of the study time.

[6] See the other contributions to this publication: Davies/Ford, Andrea Fraser, Creischer/Siekmann

[7] “Sensation“ catalogue “Von Freeze bis House: 1988-1994“, p.19, Ostfildern, 1998.  It goes on:
“At first we run up against the usual factors: the burden of recent history and the formative influence of education: social bonds; the complex interaction between artists in an established art scene and the attempt either to join this scene or to replace it with one’s own values and a new system.“ p.19

[8] This “Club“ is described in the Goldsmiths College Postgraduate Prospectus, Entry 2001, p.17 as follows: “When you finish your studies at Goldsmiths, you’ll have something in common with thousands of our alumni. Our graduates are to be found in the arts, the media, education, music, politics and business; they’re also making the news as the ‘Goldsmith School’ of contemporary artists.“

[9] While the Royal College is most strongly oriented towards inland participation in its programme, Goldsmiths College has students in the proportions 50:40:10 (inland:EU:overseas). In the Netherlands, the corresponding figures for the Jan van Eyck Akademie are 50:40:10 and for the Rijksakademie 41:35:24 (1999). The Rijksakademie has been working hand in hand with (gegenüber) the Ministry (on which it is financially dependent)  for years towards reducing the proportion of inland students. And with success, for the proportion of inland students in 1996 was still 50%. In the year 2000 the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs also asked whether a surplus item in its budget could not be used to develop a project to establish a cultural North-South axis. The RAIN-project  (Rijksakademie International Network) will be set up next year.

[10]The question arises of who, without support (from UNESCO for example) can pay the more than 20,000 dollar tuition fees. But business with overseas students is lucrative, some colleges are carrying out targeted advertising in Japan (cf.: “Séan Kimber and Simon Periton chat to Merlin Carpenter and Nils Norman about St. Martins and the changes that have recently occurred there. Tuesday 13th December 1994“, see above).

In the case of the Royal College and Goldsmiths, the tuition fees paid by overseas students are seen on the one hand as a source of income, while on the other there is an expressed intention to largely avoid overseas students.

[11] Thus a number of artists based in Holland have still managed to “slip“ into Manifesta 2 in Luxembourg, because the Mondrian Stichting has made its support dependent on a Dutch quota.

[12] from: “Sounding Difference“. Ein Gespräch zwischen Sarat Maharaj und Anni Fletcher über den Umgang mit sozialer Differenz [A conversation between Sarat Maharaj and Anni Fletcher about dealing with social difference]. Springerin Vol.6 no. 1, p. 21