In late January, the Bard Graduate Center in New York hosted a symposium called “Cultures of Conservation,” part of a Mellon-funded initiative to connect the practices and perspectives of museum conservators around the world into the interdisciplinary study of materials and material culture more broadly.
During the symposium, David Bomford, director of conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, called for an awareness of key moments in the history of conservation when values and approaches underwent a radical change. Citing a conference at Greenwich in 1974 on the relining of paintings on canvas, he drew attention to a major shift of emphasis in that field; from an approach in which the conservator applied specialist knowledge and technique to an object, to the opposing view allowing the object itself to dictate what was needed to conserve it.
This seemed a good basis on which to feature contributions related specifically to conservation issues here on the West 86th website. We have invited conservators to think of a specific moment (a date, a year, a decade) when their area of conservation underwent a radical change. This may have been due to a conference or publication, the development of new materials, the introduction of new equipment, or simply the tipping point of a slowly developing change of approach. Whichever moment is chosen, we hope it will be a useful way to bring everyone into the conversation, and allow non-specialists to get a sense of the debates that surround conservation across the full spectrum of materials and media.
Our first “moment” belongs to Dr. Miriam Clavir, conservator emerita and research fellow at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. Her post is to follow and many more are to come.
If you are a conservator or have conservation-related interests, please forward these posts along and, of course, feel free to comment.