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No Preservatives | The Top Ten U.S. Online Contemporary Conservation Projects from 2011


"Lick and Lather" by Janine Antoni (1993-94). Image courtesy SFMoMA.

I wanted to do a Top Ten list of contemporary conservation projects that could be seen online, but only found nine.  While I don’t mean to pretend that I completed an exhaustive search for projects from 2011, I do pay a lot attention to conservation in the news and did a fair amount of looking around…so, if you know of any other good ones, please list them in the comments below.

9. SFMoMA Conservators Turn Back Time: Michelle Barger talks to a KALW reporter about caring for Janine Antoni‘s famous set of busts titled Lick and Lather (pictured above)and a variety of other SFMoMA projects.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. "Spoonbridge and Cherry." Image courtesy Walker Art Center.

8. The Problem of Paint: Re-coating Sculptures by Calder, Oldenburg, West, and di Suvero: This is probably the most curious story in the bunch as the conservation project was atypically overseen by The Walker Art Center’s registrar (they don’t have a conservation staff), but it still provides an interesting glimpse into the restoration of one of Minneapolis’ iconic sculptures, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry.

The Artists Documentation Program.

7. Artist Documentation Program (ADP): This ground-breaking web initiative went online in 2011. The ADP “interviews artists and their close associates in order to gain a better understanding of their materials, working techniques, and intent for conservation of their works.” There are lots of great artist interviews available through this project, and don’t forget to check out the talk by the folks that completed the interviews and created the web page.

"An Artificial Barrier of Blue, Red and Blue Fluorescent Light (to Flavin Starbuck Judd)," 1968. Image courtesy Guggenheim Museum.

6. Francesca Esmay Announced as the Conservator for the Panza Collection Initiative at the Guggenheim. Maybe I’m a sucker for press releases about art conservators, or maybe the Guggenheim was lucky to grab Esmay from her job as the first (and only) conservator at the Dia Art Foundation; either way, her work on the Panza Collection will be tremendously important and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it soon (you might remember Esmay from her brilliant work documenting Spiral Jetty).

Collections team packing up the Eames living room. Photo: Bryan Chan, Los Angeles Times.

5. Charles and Ray Eames’ Living Room Makes an Interim Home at LACMA.  While it’s clear that a project of this scale requires a team of collections staff and not just conservators, I couldn’t help but include this project after looking at the Eameses so much on this blog.

"Still life with Guitar" by Pablo Picasso (assembled before November 15, 1913). Image courtesy MoMA.

4. History and Conservation of Still Life with Guitar. MoMA doesn’t often put a lot of information on their web page or their blog about conservation, but when they do it’s usually interesting. As part of the exhibit Picasso: Guitars 1912-14, MoMA conservator Scott Gerson talks about his work studying historic photographs to make a replacement element for one of Picasso’s cardboard guitars and the process of completing a thorough surface cleaning.


3. Tony Smith’s Source repainted at the Cleveland Museum of Art. In four minutes you can hear the complete story of the conservation treatment of this seven ton, painted steel sculpture.

De Wain Valentine. "Gray Column," 1975–76. Polyester resin. 140 x 87 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. Lent by De Wain Valentine. Artwork © De Wain.

2. From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column.  With an exhibition organized by the Getty Conservation Institute in collaboration with the Getty Museum, a corresponding publication, which includes perhaps one of the best conservation videos ever made, and an engaging discussion with the artist and senior scientist, Tom Learner, I think this project should be a model for future conservation efforts in all museums.

1. Watts Towers Conservation Project. This has been one of my favorite projects to follow from afar.  LACMA stepped up to the plate to help preserve this American icon finished in 1954 by Simon Rodia and were rewarded with a $500,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation to preserve the Towers. LACMA has put a lot of information on their blog and webpage about the project, including this conservation video.

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