Poster Presentation: Worth the Risk: Conserving Contemporary Art in Unstable Media

Museums assume a certain level of risk when they collect and display contemporary art made with unstable, ephemeral materials. These works pose conservation challenges necessitating the examination of scientific developments not ordinarily familiar to art professionals. Works constructed using organic materials pose especially complex conservation questions as well as ethical issues. This poster session presents the conservation research carried out by art history professor Dr. Susan Libby and student Isaac Gorres as a Rollins College Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship research project. We have selected several works in the modern and contemporary collections in Rollins’ Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM) as case studies. These include art made with synthetic plastics, unstable grounds, nonarchival papers, calabash gourds, deer hide, soot and smoke on wood, and worn clothing and shoes from a site along the U.S.-Mexico border. We have mined recent scientific literature detailing problems that these and other materials pose over time and their suggested treatment methodologies. Research addressing reactions to different environments is especially useful in our case, since works in CFAM’s Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art are displayed in a newly built philanthropic boutique hotel constructed using a large donation from the Alfond family. We anticipate that through publishing our findings (journal article in progress) and presenting at conferences, CFAM and other academic museums will benefit from our research on the risks—and the courage—involved in collecting and conserving contemporary works that incorporate non-traditional materials.

Susan Libby, Professor of Art History at Rollins College

Isaac Gorres, undergraduate student at Rollins College