Professor Sandra Kemp
Director of The Ruskin - Museum & Research Centre
Professor Sandra Kemp became Director of The Ruskin in October 2017.
She is an academic and curator who has worked at prestigious institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, including the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
Kemp led the successful fund-raising campaign to secure The Ruskin Whitehouse Collection for Lancaster University, and in 2019 – the bicentenary year of John Ruskin’s birth – relaunched The Ruskin as an integrated university museum, archive and research centre. The ‘landmark acquisition’ (Art Fund) was the largest grant awarded in 2019 by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, leveraged on Kemp’s vision for The Ruskin as one of the world’s leading University Museums, that encourages us all to look closely, see clearly and imagine freely through Ruskin's works.
Her exhibition Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future explored Ruskin’s intense processes of visual observation through works rooted in the particularities of the natural world. Commissions by contemporary artists, testifying to the relevance of Ruskin’s ideas today, were interspersed amongst Ruskin’s paintings and drawings, diagrams and models, books, daguerreotypes and woodcuts, manuscripts and letters. The exhibition was profiled in the Daily Mail and the Financial Times podcast ‘John Ruskin's message for our times’. A short film of Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future is on YouTube.
In 2021, The Ruskin announced its forthcoming season, Tomorrow’s World Today: Ruskin, Art and Science. The programme launched with the Google Arts and Culture exhibition Painting with Sunlight: Ruskin and Science, co-curated by Kemp in partnership with the Royal Society, introduced in the blog post Cloud Perspectives.
As a researcher with an international track record in working across the arts and sciences, Kemp has held academic positions at the Universities of Oxford, Glasgow and the Royal College of Art, alongside curatorial roles, until 2017 as Senior Research Fellow at the V&A.
Her major exhibitions have included Future Face: Image, Identity, Innovation, funded by the Wellcome Trust at the Science Museum, London, explored the long intellectual union of the art, design, technology and science in the analysis of the face as a 3-D bar-code of identity, and explored what faces might be like in the future. At the V&A, Kemp co-ordinated V&A research in partnership with the Bard Graduate Center, New York, for an exhibition and related publications on John Lockwood Kipling and the international legacy of arts and crafts, Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London.
From 2017 to 2020, Kemp led the international collaborative Universal Museums project, funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and LABEX, with co-investigator Hervé Inglebert, Professor of History at the University Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. In partnership with the V&A, Science Museum, Musée de l’Homme, Musée du quai Branly and Musée des Arts et Métiers, this transnational project explores the role of museums in critical enquiry through collections, display and engagement with diverse publics, and in building knowledge across disciplines.
Kemp is an experienced leader of cultural programmes, with an international track record including funded projects initiated at the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and SciFest Africa, working in association with biomedical scientists, medical physicists, surgeons, sculptors, filmmakers, painters and photographers.
Kemp’s cross-disciplinary research shows how museum collections can be used to generate new thinking about the dynamic relationships between past, present and future. As a future-orientated thinker, Ruskin’s writings – across architecture and the arts, political economy, social welfare and the natural sciences - document the foundations of artistic, social, scientific and political movements that define modern Britain; while speaking powerfully to our own time. The Ruskin Whitehouse Collection is the ideal locus for interdisciplinary research, generated through the . Launched and led by Kemp, the Ruskin Research Centre generates new perspectives on Ruskin’s works and legacy: from art history to artificial intelligence. Since its inception in 2019, the centre has raised more the £8m and has played an ever more crucial role in LU’s mission to ‘become a globally significant university, driven by research, teaching and learning that engages locally and internationally on the issues and debates of the day and future.’
Further information on Kemp’s research projects and published works is available on her Faculty research profile.
Sandra Kemp is Visiting Professor in the Department of Materials at Imperial College London. Her Professorship at ICL follows a four-year Senior Research Investigator role in the Department of Materials, and her work as the inaugural Research Director at the Royal College of Art (RCA) from 2000-2008.
Sandra is a member of the international jury of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).