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The Peter Dormer Lecture

The Peter Dormer Lecture is the UK’s major annual applied arts lecture, held in memory of Peter Dormer, the writer and critic who died in 1996. Organised by a committee of his friends and colleagues and hosted by the Royal College of Art, the lecture aims to continue the debate about applied art and society that was central to Dormer’s concerns.

Peter Dormer’s writings embraced art, architecture, design, technology and education; and his critical and curatorial work helped to promote the crafts into the freeflowing currents of postmodern visual culture. This connectivity is something these lectures celebrate and promote – previous speakers have embraced architecture, ceramics and modernism, the implications of digital technology, craft history and criticism, and design innovation. 

About Peter Dormer

Peter Dormer (1949–96) trained in art at Bath Academy of Art and in philosophy at Bristol University. After a short career in education he joined the staff of Crafts magazine under the editorship of Martina Margetts. By that time he had already started writing about the applied arts. He later left Crafts to become a full time writer and exhibition curator and developed his thinking in applied art, design, and architecture, the connections between them and their role in society. Among his exhibitions were Fast Forward (ICA, 1985) and Beyond the Dovetail (Crafts Council, 1991), both polemical exhibitions on the nature of the new and the traditional in crafts and the search for critical criteria. For Thames and Hudson he wrote the New series – starting with The New Jewelry (with Ralph Turner) and including The New Furniture and The New Ceramics. One of his last books was also on jewellery — Jewelry of our Time: Art, Ornament, and Obsession — written with Helen W Drutt-English, the Philadelphia collector. He also wrote about and curated exhibitions on design and architecture, writing The Meanings of Modern Design in 1990 and Design since 1945 in 1993. Peter Dormer was notable among critics for being appreciated by makers, and one of his persistent interests was in understanding the nature of skill and how it is learnt, used, and judged. This is the theme of The Art of the Maker (1994), one of his most important books, based on a PhD he did at the RCA.

Organisation and Funding

The Peter Dormer Lecture Committee organises the annual lecture and raises funds and current members are: Dr Tanya Harrod (Chair), Jane Smith (Secretary), Helen Drutt English, Grant Gibson, Dr Stephen Knott, Nicholas Rena, Professor Hans Stofer, Dr Claire Pajaczkowska, Dr Catharine Rossi, Clare Twomey and Ellis Woodman.

The Committee is grateful to the Royal College of Art for its support in hosting the annual lecture, to private donors, and occasional financial support from the Crafts Council.

The Peter Dormer Lecture 2019
Between Abjection and the Object: Body Work in the 1990s

The Peter Dormer Lecture 2019 will be given by Jenni Sorkin.

Alun Graves
Alun Graves

This year's talk traces a history of craft practices and object making that centred on the body as both a source of stimulus and site of contestation for addressing urgent questions of gender and sexuality during the decade when identity politics elided with a new materiality in artistic production.

Jenni Sorkin is Associate Professor of History of Art & Architecture at University of California, Santa Barbara. She writes on the intersections between gender, material culture and contemporary art, working primarily on women artists and underrepresented media, and lectures and publishes widely. She is the author of Live Form: Women, Ceramics and Community (University of Chicago Press: 2016), which examines the confluence of gender, artistic labor and the history of post-war ceramics. She received her PhD in the History of Art from Yale University in 2010 and is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Modern Craft. She is the recipient of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (2014–15), the Center for Craft (2012), the Getty Research Institute (2010–11), and the ACLS/Luce Fellowship in American Art (2008).

Previous Peter Dormer Lectures given by: 

Tom Emerson & Stephanie Macdonald, 2018. Click here to view.
Alun Graves, 2017. Click here to view.
Alison Britton, 2016 Click here to view.
Cecil Balmond, 2015. Click here to view; click here to download a summary of this lecture.
Daniel Charny, 2014. Click here to view.
Martina Margetts, 2013. Click here to download a summary of the lecture.
Grayson Perry, 2012. Click here to download a summary of the lecture.
Dr Jorunn Veiteberg, 2011
Dr Julia Bryan-Wilson, 2010
Professor Edward S. Cooke, Jr, 2009
Saul Griffith, 2008
Dr Glenn Adamson, 2007
Richard Wentworth, 2006
Alan Powers, 2005
Jeremy Myerson, 2004
Malcolm McCullough, 2003
Edmund de Waal, 2002
Rosemary Hill, 2001
Marjan Unger, 2000
Ellen Dissanayake, 1999
Tanya Harrod, 1998
Charles Jencks, 1997

"Radical rethinks are vital to the Peter Dormer Lecture’s purpose."
Peter Dormer
Peter Dormer
Photographer: Edward Barber