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5. General Session [clear filter]
Friday, June 1


(Material Transfers & Translations) Tauba Auerbach’s Altar/Engine: a case study in reconceptualizing materiality
On December 12, 2016 the Museum of Modern Art acquired Tauba Auerbach’s 2015 work Altar/Engine. The work consists of seventy-six Rhino files 3D printed into individual plastic components of various types, resins, and finishes that are subsequently installed in a specific pattern on a nine-foot square highly finished painted aluminum platform and stainless steel base. It quickly became apparent to the artist and MoMA staff that in the short time since its creation, many of the material aspects had changed in significant and unacceptable ways. This paper will examine the steps the artist and MoMA took to ensure the work met the desired standards of the artist which resulted in a collective redefinition of its materiality. This redefinition, or reconceptualization, impacts its treatment, display, and long-term care. Fifteen of the seventy-six 3D printed components significantly changed since their 2015 creation and were subsequently reprinted by the artist after acquisition. Changes were primarily indicated by breaks in the 3D printed structures or in deformation of coiled forms. The components are printed in four distinct visual types: white, black, frosted clear, and gold. The components in need of reprinting were the white, frosted clear, and painted gold types. This process revealed necessary changes in aspects of the printing process from the resin to the printing company that resulted in alterations to the texture and appearance of the components. Although accepted and approved by the artist, these changes led to a dialogue with the artist to develop MoMA’s understanding of the artist’s parameters of visual and material acceptance as well as a protocol for caring for the work moving forward. The goal of these initial reprinting efforts was to increase the stability of the components for long term storage and display. However, their complexity and fragile nature will likely necessitate future printing by the artist and/or MoMA. This brings up larger questions of the relationship of the Rhino files with their 3D physical counterparts and where the work’s fundamental materiality is located. Changes in files, software obsolescence, upgrades in printing and polymer technology can all drastically impact a work depending on the definition of its materiality. As contemporary artists are gravitating to new materials and methods, this case study will illustrate MoMA’s examination of the relatively nascent method of 3D printing. Combining expertise from various disciplines of conservation, namely sculpture, media, and science, MoMA is developing its approach to the long term care of 3D printed material. This strategy considers its evolving status both in the artist’s practice as well as mutable objects in the collection, touching on issues of maintenance, storage, and travel. This paper will also explore the possibility of refabricating components in the future, while addressing the likelihood of changing technologies with regards to the media files, the printing process, and polymer technology.

avatar for Peter Oleksik

Peter Oleksik

Associate Media Conservator, Museum of Modern Art
Peter Oleksik is an Assistant Media Conservator at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. He holds an MA in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) from New York University, where he is currently an Adjunct Professor teaching video preservation. His past work includes the access... Read More →
avatar for Megan Randall

Megan Randall

Conservation Fellow, Museum of Modern Art
Megan Randall is an Assistant Projects Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art. She completed her conservation training at the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts. Megan spent her internship year at the Museum of Modern Art (2014-2015). She has also completed internships... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 2:00pm - 2:30pm
Texas Ballroom B Marriott Marquis Houston


(Material Transfers & Translations) Whitney Replication Committee: Transparency in the Age of Reproduction
Since its 2008 inception, The Whitney Museum of American Art's Replication Committee has explored ethical and practical considerations related to the reproducibility of works of art in the collections for purposes assocated with the Museum's mission. Museum objects have been replicated, reformatted, and altered in various ways for a variety of reasons. While transformation has always been a part of the history of museum objects, these types of interventions have become even more pervasive in the last decade, especially as a conservation treatment option. Often, these activities have a profound impact on the object itself, either physically, conceptually, or both.

At the outset of Committee discussions, it became clear that it was necessary to frame the context for replication by defining a set of vocabularies and language through which the range of such practices is understood. Initially, it was believed that the development of such protocols would subsequently apply to other artworks under review. However, the thinking of the group began to evolve as the Committee attempted to contextualize replicated works.

Using replication case studies, the presenters will outline the dynamics of the Committee's decision making process. They will explain the rationale used to define the Museum's institutional criteria for works that are fabricated, refabricated, or replicated, and the challenges in establishing systems which capture transformations that are more complex in nature. This process includes producing transparent information and documentation, clearly alerting our audiences to these changes, and allowing for a more complete understanding of the work as a materialized object at a moment in time.

avatar for Margo Delidow-[PA]

Margo Delidow-[PA]

Assistant Conservator, Whitney Museum of American Art
Margo Delidow, Assistant Conservator for the Whitney Museum of American Art completed a Masters of Arts and Certificate of Advanced Study in Conservation from the Art Conservation Program at Buffalo State, The State University of New York. She is a partner at Whryta Contemporary Art... Read More →
avatar for Clara Rojas Sebesta

Clara Rojas Sebesta

Assistant Conservator, Whitney Museum of American Art
Clara Rojas-Sebesta, Assistant Conservator for the Whitney Museum of American Art, is a graduate of the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, with a specialization in works of art on paper. She also holds degrees in art history from Cornell University... Read More →

avatar for Farris Wahbeh

Farris Wahbeh

Benjamin and Irma Weiss Director of Research Resources, Whitney Museum
Farris Wahbeh, Benjamin and Irma Weiss Director of Research Resources, Whitney Museum of American Art, has experience with collections that house archival materials ranging from the eighteenth century to art collections of the twenty-first. Mr. Wahbeh is also a Visiting Assistant... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 2:30pm - 3:00pm
Texas Ballroom B Marriott Marquis Houston


Facilitated Discussion
avatar for Jessica Walthew

Jessica Walthew

Conservator, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
Jessica Walthew is an objects conservator at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. She holds an MA in Art History and Archaeology with advanced certificate in Conservation from NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, Conservation Center. Her research and teaching interests include history... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 3:00pm - 3:30pm


(Material Transfers & Translations) Flaming Pearls and Flying Phoenixes: Materiality, Research, and Stewardship of Liao Dynasty Metalwork
Metalwork from the Liao Dynasty (907-1125 CE) displays material and technical mastery that draws on the metalware and gilding traditions from the Tang and Song dynasties in China. When the nomadic Khitan people created the Liao polity, their military dominance, worldview, and cultural tastes culminated in a rich physical heritage. The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston has three opulent Khitan funerary objects in its collection: a Mongolian-style gilded bronze saddle (with original wooden substrate), a pair of gilded silver boots, and a gilded silver crown. The choice of precious materials, employment of specialized knowledge, and incorporation of kingship iconography highlights the importance and power of these objects within the culture of the Liao Dynasty. The discovery of these highly decorative and luxurious objects in noble tombs suggests they served a ritual function within the burial customs of elites. The manufacture of utilitarian forms (e.g. saddle and boots) in prized materials unsuitable for functioning objects highlights the importance of the nomadic identity even in death. Decorative programs incorporating flaming-pearls, phoenixes, dragons, ruyi clouds, scrolls, and vegetal motifs employ a Buddhist visual vocabulary common in the Liao Dynasty. Through their funerary objects, the individual identities can be contextualized and encapsulated through the manipulation of physical materials. This materials-based interpretation is grounded in scientific analysis (e.g. energy-dispersive x-ray fluorescence, electron microprobe, Fourier-transformation infrared spectroscopy, and wood identification) and imaging (e.g. x-ray radiography and reflectance transformation imaging) in conjunction with research of other Liao Dynasty comparanda.

Transcendency of materials in the pursuit of form can embed meaning and cultural significance in ways not readily apparent. The sheet metal used to make the gilded silver boots were cut to form in a manner similar to the textile footwear counterpart while the unusual choice of metal substrate (i.e. pure copper) for the saddle complicates the traditional interpretation of this equine apparatus. Increased awareness of the Liao Dynasty metalwork tradition and new archaeological finds are slowly changing the narrative of the Khitan people from “barbaric” nomadic outsiders to cultural-empowered elites. The MFA initially acquired and understood the gilded silver crown as a Korean flat plaque; however, this interpretation was soon abandoned with subsequent archaeological excavations and the discovery of similar forms in the shape of a crown. In the early 1960s, museum restorers decided to reshape the plaque, using the annealing process, to its current crown form. This significant intervention and other smaller treatments (i.e. reducing tarnish, passivating active corrosion, and stabilizing structural breaks) illustrates the degree museum restorers and later conservators re-contextualized and cared for these Khitan funerary objects. Treatment decisions are scrutinized against their historical frameworks as new technologies (i.e. three-dimensional imaging and printing) offer exciting avenues of research and options for display and accessibility. As the museum strives to understand these enigmatic objects, the Liao Dynasty funerary metalware continues to offer a glimpse into the material mastery of the Khitan people and the world in which they lived.

avatar for Evelyn Mayberger

Evelyn Mayberger

Assistant Conservator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Eve holds a B.A. in Art History with a concentration in Asian Art from Wesleyan University. She graduated with a M.A. and M.S. degrees in art history and conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University where she specialized in objects conservation. Eve has worked in... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 3:30pm - 4:00pm
Texas Ballroom B Marriott Marquis Houston


(Material Transfers & Translations) Collecting Collections: negotiating the complexities of material value at the National Park Service
In the 101 years since its inception, The National Park Service (NPS) has been overseen by eighteen United States Presidents and twenty-seven Secretaries of the Interior, while amassing a collection of over 50 million accessioned objects. 36 million of those objects reside in the NPS’s Northeast Region. Examples include a Buddhist altar table owned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a 19th-century Japanese screen collected by Laurance Rockefeller, a glass and plastic inkwell used by Maggie Walker, and numerous outdoor monuments. The care and upkeep of these pieces is in part the responsibility of just seven regional objects and paper conservators. With such thinly stretched resources (when evenly divided, each conservator is responsible for a stunning 5.1 million objects), it is important to have a clear understanding of the cultural value of the materials we care for, and to whom (or to what) we, as conservators, are ultimately held accountable, as we collaborate with one another, with Park stakeholders, and with contracted conservators. In many ways, the decision-making process used to determine a treatment is no different for an NPS Conservator than it is for a museum or private-practice conservator: we, too, are responsible to colleagues as well as administrative supervision (with the caveat that our administration changes entirely every four to eight years) and our decisions, in keeping with section II of the AIC Code of Ethics, are governed by “an informed respect for cultural property, its unique character and significance, and the people or person who created it.” That said, one of the most challenging complexities of the National Park Service is that, unlike most museums or private individuals who collect discrete objects, the NPS collects collections - currently over 2,500 of them. In essence, these collections are the objects. In telling the story of the creators of these “objects,” we become primarily responsible to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, rather than to the worshipper or monks who commissioned the elegant altar table, which was altered  by the Longfellows to serve as a sideboard in their dining room, and to Laurance Rockefeller, rather than to the 19th-century Japanese artist who surely intended his spectacular flying cranes screen to be shown with all six of its panels, rather than used with only five, and to Maggie Walker, whose civil rights activism is memorialized in her home as it was at the time of her death in 1934. It is imperative, of course, to study and understand the materials of individual objects before proposing or beginning treatment. And treating the object with care and respect is always essential. The unusual circumstances of the National Park Service, however, necessitate a third step: contextualizing and assigning value to the narrative of the collector or collection so that we may support that vision and share it with future generations. This paper will discuss the complexities of this decision-making process and how we, as conservators, are responsible for not only the objects themselves, but also for their historic (versus historical) interpretation.

avatar for Joannie Bottkol

Joannie Bottkol

Conservator, NPS Historic Architecture, Conservation and Engineering Center
Joannie Bottkol, is an objects conservator for the National Park Service’s Northeast Region, which consists of over 80 National Sites and Parks spanning from Maine to Virginia. The collections include decorative and fine art, outdoor monuments, historic house interiors and furnishings... Read More →
avatar for Angela Campbell

Angela Campbell

Conservator, NPS Historic Architecture, Conservation and Engineering Center
Angela Campbell is the Paper Conservator at the Historic Architecture, Conservation and Engineering Center (HACE) of the National Park Service. Angela was previously an Assistant Conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she spent seven years working in the Sherman Fairchild... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 4:00pm - 4:30pm
Texas Ballroom B Marriott Marquis Houston


Facilitated Discussion
avatar for Jessica Walthew

Jessica Walthew

Conservator, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
Jessica Walthew is an objects conservator at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. She holds an MA in Art History and Archaeology with advanced certificate in Conservation from NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, Conservation Center. Her research and teaching interests include history... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 4:30pm - 5:30pm
Texas Ballroom B Marriott Marquis Houston