Last weekend I went to Art13, London’s New Modern and Contemporary Art Fair. It was phenomenal. I think contemporary conservators need to occasionally go to art fairs for 2 reasons, 1. To train your eye about what art is being made, 2. to witness how the art is being interacted with and remember as much as possible in case you notice something, even a little thing, that may give an indication of a possible interaction with the object, an insight into the history of the work.
I have been contemplating recently the idea that artifacts in museums are “dead” or “alive”, do these artifacts “live” in museum collections, or are these museum collections populated with “dead” artifacts that are propped up in some way, like the features of Michael Jackson in a wax museum, eternally captured in his early days on tour.
Musing over this idea while walking around the Art13 I felt like I was seeing the art during teenage years, if the artist has the art during conception and birth, then the gallery has the difficult job of seeing the work through the adolescence, when other art doesn’t understand them, during a crisis of identity, taking big risks, having big rewards or big setbacks, and generally finding the way, with a lot of drama and excitement along as well.
This teenage art was fascinating and fun, it fed off the energy in the show, and the hall was populated with collectors, gallerists, hangers-on, artists, and hipsters. I was probably one of the only conservators, but I would be interested to know if someone else in the museum/preservation/conservation field was there too.
I attended one of the panel discussions, about “The Global rise of the Private Museum”, with Don and Mera Rubell, Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and Ramin Salsali. All of the participants had a lot to say about why they felt they wanted to make private museums, and it was really nice to hear them talk about giving back to scholars, showing more of their collections, active loan programs so other museums can put on contemporary exhibitions, and the challenges and opportunities of beginning a contemporary art museum in a region that may not have any other venues to display contemporary art.
At one point during the Q&A an artist/curator asked if they would consider calling their collections, “living museums” and Don Rubell (I loved him, he and Mera were hilarious) responded, “But what do you do if the artists in your collection are all dead?”. This lead me back to the idea that had been bouncing through my head all day, is art ever dead? We still examine and learn from art that is thousands of years old, art made by people who have long gone, people without descendants to interpret it, and it is still alive to us, it still speaks to us, and in that way it is always as alive as the day it was born.
To future conservators, Congratulations, you’ve chosen art conservation as a profession, or perhaps art conservation has chosen you. What is the saying? ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust open them’ it is something like that.
You’ve also probably realized that the straight and narrow path to becoming a conservator will include a graduate degree. Perhaps you even have a majority of the pre-requisites, maybe you have interviews, or will interview, or maybe this is the first time you thought about entering the field.
Recently I have heard from a number of potential grad school candidates, all wondering what they could do to improve their applications, wondering what the school wants or what the school is looking for.
My response to these questions, “What do you want?” “What are you looking to study or achieve?”
Really think about it, when I applied to grad school I thought I should take a life drawing class to make me seem like a better candidate. So I took the class, hated every minute, and made some really horrific drawings. Really horrific, they look like the sketches of a serial murder. I just threw them out in November, 2012, which means I had these horrible things for 5 years (good thing I used such quality paper). All these drawings reminded me that I am never going to be a brilliant sketch artist, but that has nothing to do with whether I will be a good conservator.
I am a good conservator, and right now I am thinking of researching materials used in contemporary art like wood or foodstuffs, right now I wished I had taken a course in something interesting like cake decorating or just hanging out with a housepainter for a few weekends or something to learn about painting wood.
But, at least I can look back on these drawings and laugh at how bad they are and how little it matters, how silly I was and how far I’ve come.
I love working with artists. One reason why I work on contemporary art. I like learning more about the creative process and seeing how an artist approaches their work, what they think of it, and hopefully over the course of my career, I will be able to build relationships so I will be able to document the ways an artist views will change over time.
Almost a year ago I attended the INCCA-NA Artist Interview Methodology Workshop in Washington, D.C. It was a great workshop for many reasons. It put me in contact with numerous stakeholders working with contemporary artists and it taught me skills for effectively interviewing artists. I had a chance to use those skills yesterday when I consulted with Julianne Swartz about one of her pieces which will be traveling from an exhibit at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
I felt nervous meeting the artist (who wouldn’t?), and I felt like I needed to impress her, I wanted her to like me, I thought, “Are you 14? This isn’t high school. Get a grip Rose, you’re working here. “ I managed to relax and remember my training at the workshop, I let the artist lead the conversation, I spoke about the things I know about, and I learned a lot. Pat Evans, the registrar at SMoCA attended the INCCA-NA workshop in San Francisco and it was great to work with her because we both knew to let the artist talk and not to try to impress her (Pat probably already knew this, perhaps I am the only painfully immature professional when I am speaking to someone famous)
The artist was really positive about the conservation work I had done, told me she thought the piece looked great, which felt fantastic. It is so rare to have that type of affirmation of my work I feel like I will be walking on clouds for the next month.
The next series of INCCA-NA workshops are coming up, with one workshop in New York City and two in Los Angeles. Applications are due on January 11, 2013.
I have Olympic Fever! All I do is watch fencing, gymnastics, and swimming, and I saw the highlights of the opening ceremony, I have the music playing in my head constantly - Da-Da-Dum-Dum-Dum-Da-Dum
With that in mind I was wondering if there are any conservation labs across the country having Conservation Olympics. Since most labs are pretty diverse with conservators from different countries we could probably make a good showing with a torch run, and we could get TEAM USA and representative conservators from other countries. Perhaps some events like a swab rolling competition (how many can you roll in 1 minute?) maybe in the spirit of beach volleyball we could use our sandboxes and see who can set up the most skewers in the sand in 1 minute? (I realize this is like only offering the 100m in track in field, help me here people).
There are many examples of office Olympics, the Guardian has offered a few suggestions,
Marathon Race to your sister branch in the neighbouring city and back, in full suit and tie/skirt and heels.
Javelin Sharpen a pencil, then take a nice long run-up and hurl it across the office. Automatic gold medal if it lands in the bin.
100m hurdles Place a trail of swivel chairs along your main corridor. And no pushing them out of the way.
Weightlifting Ask your colleagues to line up in order of weight, then try lifting each of them over your head.
The hammer Spin your computer mouse around your head, then unleash it across the car park.
Volleyball Screw up your annual appraisal into a ball and lob it over to your colleague sitting opposite.
Off-road cycling 10 laps of the canteen.
But we could do so much more, and more conservation-specific, three laps around the block and then lifting a piece of paper from a water bath, of course we don’t need to use artifacts (’No artifacts were harmed during these competitions’) but we could have a bit of professional fun. Go Team USA!
Today the IMLS updated their museum program funding. In a nutshell, the grants have been combined so now there are 2 types of grants, the Museums for America (MFA), which will include funding for the activities and projects that were supported previously under Conservation Project Support, and National Leadership Grants (NLG) for Museums, which will now include funding for the activities and projects that were supported previously under 21st Century Museum Professionals.
Museums can apply for an unlimited number of grants, and applications will be reviewed by subject-matter experts. Museums submitting applications in more than one project category will compete with other museums in each category, not with themselves.
I guess conservation is going to have to get a bit more sexy to compete with other museum departments.
This morning I turned on NPR instead of listening to my usual mix of pop and diva trance music. It a sobering morning news show recounting the Aurora, Colorado shooting of 12 people in a movie theater. Then I went to the web to search and learn more. I found Jessica, an aspiring sportscaster and blogger, who was one of the victims in the Aurora shooting, who was also present at the shooting in Toronto only a few weeks ago.
In recognition of Jessica’s blog I am re-posting her final blog entry detailing how she felt after the Toronto shootings.
Late Night Thoughts on the Eaton Center Shooting
I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.
I have been recently ruminating about how one becomes a conservator and where the field of conservation is going and I wanted to write down a few of my thoughts before they fell out of my head.
The field started and was called restoration, at some point (perhaps in the mid-seventies) in the USA and the UK the field started to use the word conservation instead, implying that restoration was somehow less skilled or ethical than conservation. This marginalized those who trained through an apprentice system by referring to these individuals as ‘restorers’ who did treatment work, and those who completed a graduate degree were ‘conservators’ who were maybe more ethical. In general conservators lie around as much as restorers, and internationally the term conservation-restoration has been adopted.
Orphans Preferred - this is from an early advertisement for Pony Express riders, but it is a sentiment that has come up recently as I have been speaking with undergraduate students interested in a career in art conservation. Everyone knows they have to take the big scary Chemistry, but it seems more important to me to get across they they may have little control over their geographic location. Some students are not bothered by this and are eager to get out and see the World, but it is worth mentioning in case they believe they can come back to where they are from and have a job.
Beauty School dropouts - conservation is around 10 years behind the aesthetician field, after a conversation with my aesthetician. She said, “10-years ago, when I trained I needed 600 hours of classwork, it was all taught by hairstylists, and it was really basic, you barely learnt the chemistry of the products, and you could graduate and get your license and you were putting acid on someone’s face”. It is interesting how similar conservators and aesthetician are, we both have ‘cosmetic’ treatments, we both use chemicals, acids, lasers, and bleaches. I found her descriptions of licensing particularly interesting because conservators tried to approve certification years ago and I wondered if licensing for conservators is ever approved, will it be similar to aesthetician licensing. While her licensing doesn’t require continuing education, she said she does take courses, and she mentioned that the products (like Aveda) are now licensing aestheticians, similarly to the cathedral stone course for working with their mortars.