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Professor Michael White
Professor of History of Art



BA (London), MA, PhD (Essex)

Michael White is a Professor in History of Art working chiefly on the interwar avant-gardes. He wrote his doctoral thesis on Theo van Doesburg and has a special interest in De Stijl and modernism in the Netherlands. He was consultant curator of the 2010 Tate Modern exhibition ‘Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde: Constructing a New World’, advised the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag on the display of its permanent Mondrian and De Stijl collections, and was the external curator of the exhibition ‘Mondrian and his Studios’ at Tate Liverpool in 2014 as featured on the BBC.

Michael is also the author of ‘Generation Dada: The Berlin Avant-Garde and the First World War’ (Yale University Press, 2013) and the co-editor of ‘Virgin Microbe: Essays on Dada’ (Northwestern University Press, 2013). The dual interests he has in abstraction and Dada are informing his latest research projects.

Departmental roles

  • Head of Department
  • Senior Management Team
  • Research Committee
  • Teaching Committee



Michael’s research on De Stijl tested predominant theoretical paradigms for describing the avant-garde by exploring the meanings attached to abstract art and their relationship to parallel modernising projects such as urban planning, interior design reform and the development of consumer culture. The Tate Modern exhibition on which he worked, Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde: Constructing a New World, considered the career of Theo van Doesburg not merely as an artist but a propagandist for cultural renewal in fields as diverse as architecture, graphic design, publishing, film and music. Van Doesburg's role in proselytising the new and coordinating a large network of fellow artists are important themes explored in the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue.

The theme of artistic networks has played a major role in his study of the Berlin Dada group and his book on the subject is one of the first to consider its group dynamics, using a large amount of unpublished, archival material to cast new light on the careers of figures such as George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Hoech. The book elaborates in detail how the group came together during the First World War and the peculiar relationship its members had to the times they experienced. One of the central problems the book tackles is the role that the Dadaists themselves played in constructing the history of Dada, through a wide variety of autobiographical writings and that aspect of Dada historiography is something he taking forward in his next research projects.

Michael continues to have an active interest in the history of abstract art, developed through many years of research into the careers of the likes of Van Doesburg, Mondrian and Schwitters. He is currently taking this further, looking in particular at the connections between the practice of such artists and the roles they took on as producers of art theory.

Research group(s)


Michael would welcome proposals for doctoral research on abstract art, theory of the avant-garde, modernist design, Dada, Constructivism and related groups.

In Progress

Yiran Chen, 'Transboundary: Contemporary Chinese ink art in a global context'

Amina Diab, 'Re-displaying the Modern: A History of Art Exhibitions, Artistic Networks and Institutions in the Middle East and North Africa 1947-1989' (AHRC funded CDA)

Stephen Kerr, 'The impetus provided by the Ernst-May-Siedlungen housing projects in Frankfurt during the Weimar Republic to the development of dweller-designed domestic interiors in Modernist mass-housing'

Simon Marginson, ‘Francis Picabia’s Espagnoles

Jessica Schouela, 'When Pictures Falter: Photography and Abstraction 1914–1930'

Chris Sheldon, 'The Persistence of Modernity; Railways Art and Relativity’

Melissa Stanley, ‘A Thematic Study of Three English New Towns: Letchworth, Harlow and Milton Keynes’

Yu-Jui Yang, 'Beyond the Crafts and Arts Movement: two socialist paradigms for art liberty in Asia'


Kirstin Donaldson, ''Experiment': A Reassessment of Surrealism in England 1928-1931'

Chae Jung-Gyun, 'The Influence of Korean Art, Ideas and Aesthetics on Abstract Expressionism' (Co-supervised with Sarah Turner)

Louisa Lee, 'Conceptual Art in Britain 1964–79' (AHRC funded CDA)

Rachel Smith, 'The International Context of the Art of St Ives' (CDA with Tate Britain)

Robert Sutton, 'The Educational Roots of Henry Moore's Public Works, 1939-1951' (CDA with Tate Britain)

E. McCormick, 'Casts, Catalogues, and Curators: Acquisition and Display of Early Medieval Sculpture in National Museums, c. 1850 to 1950' (Co-supervised with Jane Hawkes)

Sa Hsiao, 'Exploring the links between I.M. Pei and internationalism in architectural design'


Selected publications


  • Francesco Manacorda and Michael White (eds.), Mondrian and his Studios: Colour in Space (Tate Publishing, London, 2014)

  • Generation Dada: the Berlin Avant-Garde and the First World War, pp.382, London & New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013
  • David Hopkins and Michael White (eds.), Virgin Microbe: Essays on Dada, pp.320, Evanston Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2013
  • Hans Janssen and Michael White, 'The Story of De Stijl / Het verhaal van De Stijl' (Ludion Press, Antwerp, 2011)
  • Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde, edited by Gladys Fabre and Doris Wintgens Hötte. Consultant Editor Michael White, London: Tate, 2009 (includes Michael White, ‘Theo van Doesburg: a Counter-life’ pp.68-75)
  • Theo van Doesburg, What is Dada? And Other Writings (edited, translated and presented by Michael White), London: Atlas Press, 2006
  • De Stijl and Dutch Modernism (Manchester University Press: 2003)


  • ‘Lettre-relais: Courrier Dada et l’autobiographie collective’ in Timothy Benson, Hanne Bergius & Ina Blom (eds.), Raoul Hausmann et les avant-gardes, Paris: Les Presses du Réel, 2015, pp.113-131
  • ‘What’s Merz in English? The Task of Translating Kurt Schwitters’ in Walter Delabar, Ursula Kocher and Isabel Schulz eds., Transgression und Intermedialität: Die Texte von Kurt Schwitters, Bielefeld: Aisthesis Verlag, 2015, pp.245-258
  • ‘蒙德里安的抽象色彩环境:画室、空间与绘画 [Mengdeli’an de chouxiang secai huanjing/ Mondrian’s Abstract Coloured Environment: Studio, Space and Painting],’ Hubei Institute of Fine Arts Journal, vol.69, no.2 (2015), pp.67-74.
  • Leah Hsiao and Michael White, ‘The Bauhaus and China: Present, Past, and Future,’ West 86th, vol.22, no.2 (Fall 2015), pp.176-189
  • 'Circulars and Squares: Abstraction and Internationalism between the Wars' in Chris Stephens et. al., Modern Art and St Ives (London, Tate, 2014), pp.36-41
  • 'Farbe und Erinnerung bei Mondrian' in Ortrud Westheider (ed.), Mondrian. Farbe (Hamburg: Bucerius Kunstforum, 2014), pp.44-57
  • ‘Hans Richter, ‘Dada: Art and Anti-Art’. Flight out of a Second Time’, in Timothy O. Benson, Encounters: Hans Richter, Los Angeles/Munich, London, New York: Los Angeles County Museum of Art/Prestel, 2013, pp.165-173
  • De Stijl: Eine Kunst fürs Volk? / De Stijl: An Art for the People?’ in Helmut Friedel & Matthias Mühling (eds), Mondrian De Stijl, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011, pp.46-59. Translated as ‘De Stijl: un’arte per il popolo’ in Benno Tempel (ed.), Mondrian: L’armonia perfetta, Milan: Skira, 2011, pp.60-7
  • ‘Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man’, Modernism/Modernity (Special Issue on Samuel Beckett), vol.18, no.4 (November 2011), pp.833-837
  • ‘Cities of Style’ in Frédéric Migayrou ed., De Stijl 1917-1931, (Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2010), pp.77-84
  • 'Merzzeichnung: Typology and Typography', Tate Papers, Issue 14, (, in special collection of essays 'On Drawing' edited by Jo Applin, Jennifer Mundy and Michael White.
  • 'Sense and Nonsense in Kurt Schwitters' in John Dixon Hunt, David Lomas and Michael Corris (eds.), Art, Word and Image, (London: Reaktion Books, 2010), pp. 203-13
  • 'The Grosz Case: Paranoia, Self-hatred and Antisemitism', Oxford Art Journal vol.30, no.3, (2007), pp.431-53
  • '"Not another Blasphemy Trial!": The Prosecution of George Grosz and Political Justice in Weimar Germany' in Daniel McClean ed., The Trials of Art, (London: Ridinghouse, 2007), pp.255-270
  • 'Mechano-Facture: Dada/Constructivism at the Bauhaus' in Achim Borchardt-Hume, ed., Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, (London, Tate, 2006)
  • 'Dreaming in the Abstract': Mondrian, Psychoanalysis and Abstract Art in the Netherlands', Burlington Magazine, CXLVIII, (February 2006), pp.98-106
  • 'Abstraction, Sublation and the Avant-Garde: The case of De Stijl' in Dietrich Scheunemann, ed., Avant-Garde and Neo-Avant-Garde, (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2005), pp.77-90
  • 'Nietzsche and the Artist' in Paul Smith and Carolyn Wilde eds., A Companion to Art Theory, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002), pp.183-195
  • 'Johannes Baader's Plasto-Dio-Dada-Drama: the Mysticism of the Mass Media', Modernism/Modernity vol. 8, no.4 (November 2001), pp.583-602
  • 'Spiritual Hygienists: van Doesburg, Teige and the concept of progress', Umeni, vol.XLIII, no.1 / 2, (1995), pp.63-65  



  • Futurism
  • Art Law
  • Realism and Surrealism: Art and Politics between the Wars
  • Theories of Abstraction
  • The Making of a Modern Style 1889-1933


  • The Bauhaus and Weimar Culture

External activities

Invited talks and conferences

Michael has presented papers and lectured at a large number of institutions, nationally and internationally. In 2014 he was made an Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Henan, China.

Conferences convened

  • '1913: A Year in the life of Sculpture,'
    Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, January 2013 (together with Dr Jonathan Wood)
  • 'Obrist: Sculpture and Abstraction'
    Henry Moore Institute, 26 June 2010
  • 'Abstract Connections'
    Tate Modern, 25-26 March 2010
  • 'Dada in Debate'
    Tate Modern, 25-26 November 2005 (with Professor David Hopkins, University of Glasgow)

Selected Conference Papers and Talks

  • 'Theories of Abstraction', University of Henan, April 2014
  • ‘Yellow Fever: the Psychopathology of Colour in Mondrian’s Painting,’ Mondrian. Farbe. Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg, June 2013
  • Black and White, and Read all Over: Colour and meaning in Kurt Schwitters’s Collages,’ Schwitters in context: the British Years, Tate Britain, April 2013
  • 'Quaker Oz and Dada's Missing Objects', CAA conference, New York, February 2013
  • 'Theorising Sculpture and Abstraction in the Year 1913,' 1913: A Year in the life of Sculpture, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, January 2013
  • 'Fit for Active Service: Berlin Dada and the First World War,' Department of Cultural Studies, University of Nottingham, November 2012
  • 'Mondrian: Afterimages,' Mondrian, Nicholson and 20th Century Abstraction, Courtauld Institute of Art, March 2012
  • 'What's Merz in English?  The Task of Translating Kurt Schwitters,' Transgression und Intermedialität: Die Texte von Kurt Schwitters, Sprengel Museum, Hanover, March 2011
  • 'De Stijl: 1917 and all that' 25th Van de Waal lecture, University of Leiden, September 2011
  • 'Theo van Doesburg: a Singular Vision of Collectivity'
    Open University Abstraction Study Day, Tate Modern, March 2010
  • 'New Youth: the Generational Politics of Club Dada'
    CAA Conference, Chicago, February 2010
  • 'Space-Time and Raoul Hausmann's Mechanical Head: Dada and Jewish Neo-Kantianism'
    Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas at Austin, February 2008
  • 'Arrested Development? George Grosz's Late Montages'
    CAA Conference, New York, February 2007
  • 'The Pedagogy of Abstraction'
    Abstractions across the Media Symposium, Tate Modern, June 2006
  • 'Afterimages: Mondrian and Dialectics'
    Art and Metaphysics, International University of Bremen, May 2006
  • '"The Shoe of the Eternal Jew Creaks Perpetually Before Me": George Grosz's Self-Criticism'
    Centre for Studies of Surrealism and its Legacies, Department of Art History and Archaeology, University of Manchester, February 2004
  • 'Piet Mondrian: the Image of the Artist in his Studio'
    Malcolm Easton Memorial Lecture, University of Hull, November 2004
  • 'Russian Berlin: Emigrés, Immigrants and the Avant-Garde'
    Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, November 2003
  • 'Bloomfield/Blumenfeld: Berlin Dada and Jewish Identity'
    Centre for German-Jewish Studies, University of Sussex, November 2003
  • 'Dionysus in Devon: Willi Soukop and the Place of the Mask in Modern Sculpture'
    AAH Conference, London, April 2003
  • 'Abstraction, Sublation and the Avant-Garde: the Case of De Stijl'
    Avant-Garde and Neo-Avant-Garde Conference, University of Edinburgh, March 2002
Professor Michael White

Contact details

Professor Michael White
Department of History of Art

Tel: 01904 323344
Fax: 01904 323427

Office hours:
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