Museums Conservation News USA

SFMoMA tackles the tricky problem of conserving contemporary art

Artists, curators, scientists and experts will be consulted for a long-term project launched today by the museum

Jill Sterrett, the director of collections and conservation at SFMOMA, studies the surface of Ellsworth Kelly’s painting Gaza, 1952‒56. Photo: SFMOMA

While its home has been closed as it undergoes a $365m expansion, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) has certainly kept busy. Today, it takes a major step to increase the dialogue between artists, conservators and curators with the launch of The Artist Initiative, a long-term project that views collaboration as the key to finding solutions to the challenges associated with conserving and displaying contemporary art. The initiative is being funded by a $1.75m grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The project recognises that conservation in the 21st century is not a solitary activity and can benefit from a holistic approach in which issues are explored from multiple perspectives. “As art making has grown from an individual endeavour to comprise more collaborative or shared experiences, so too has conservation, engaging many disciplines within the museum. An ever-growing array of unorthodox artist materials—ranging from food to the internet—adds to the demand for a corollary shift in thinking from museums,” says Jill Sterrett, the museum’s director of collections and conservation who is leading the project. Artists, scholars, experts and scientists will be interviewed to help develop long-term strategies for the display and care of works. The fruits of this research will be presented in publications, colloquiums and programming.

SFMoMA is kicking off the project by investigating five areas within the museum’s permanent holdings, including high-tech consumer electronic design, 1970s photography and works by American abstract painter Ellsworth Kelly. Since the museum’s main building is closed, the research will be conducted primarily off-site at the Collections Center until 2016, when SFMoMA opens its Snøhetta-designed expansion and work can also spill into its new conservation studio, which be will double the size of its former space.

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14 Feb 14
15:55 CET


The National Gallery of Canada celebrated it's 100 year centennial anniversary in 1980 with a conference dedicted to current issues in conservation. At that time conservators from Canada were joined by international colleagues and a contingent of West Coast conservators who were already at the forefront of investigations into the problems of conserving contemporary art. That issue of course has become much more critical for preservation of these landmark works. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has continued ever since those days in the early 80's to address the difficult issues surrounding conservation of contemporary art. So, congratulations to them.

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