AAMC 2011 Conference
Blog Post – Innovative Conservation
Lisa Dent, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art,
Columbus Museum of Art
Often when working with
living artists, the last thing anyone wants to think about is what objects will
look like 100 years from now. Now
imagine that you need to also be responsible for the equipment necessary to see
it. This is exactly what Joanna
Phillips, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim Museum, has
been entrusted to do. Monday
afternoon’s panel, Innovative
Conservation, included Phillips, Margaret Holben Ellis and Lindsey Tyne from the Morgan
Library & Museum, and Lee Ann Daffner from MoMA. While Ellis, Tyne and Daffner focused on the incredible and
user-friendly Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) system, that allows
conservators to look at work on paper as never before, Phillips’ presentation
focused on the care and maintenance of new media work. As a curator of contemporary art, I can
tell you that more and more artists, regardless of their primary media,
experiment with time based projects.
In an effort to bring this work to our visitors, curators and
conservators are needing to learn about things like hot pixels, 10 bit
compressed files, and bad transfers.
Phillips did a beautiful job outlining some of the triumphs and pitfalls
of her work. Artists and dealers
are not always as knowledgeable and careful about the media provided for our
collections, and it is often up to Phillips to check the master and reassure
the curators that what has been purchased is of the best quality
One of the particularly
helpful moments during Phillips’ presentation was her delineation between three
categories of equipment that she believes every museum should have.
1) Non-dedicated, variable equipment – anything that is
exchangeable, such as a DVD player that can be connected to a variety of
different monitors to play different films and videos.
2) Dedicated equipment – Is there a part of the artwork
that is unique and irreplaceable?
Phillips used a Nam June Paik work in the Guggenheim collection as an
example. Paik signed his name to
an amplifier needed for the work, thus making this piece of equipment valuable
3) Shared, obsolete equipment – There can be a variety of
pieces of equipment that can be used in different works, but are no longer
readily available in stores.
Examples in this category include slide projectors, 16 mm projectors or
I had a very basic question,
which Phillips kindly answered quickly and succinctly. Once a time based work has been
acquired, it is important to receive it in a variety of formats and save it in
several places. Getting a 10 bit
compressed video file is your best bet for assuring quality. Then be sure it is stored as an
uncompressed file on a server with limited access. This is in addition to the DVD or Quicktime file that you
make for viewing purposes.
What can I say, this was an
incredibly helpful panel and will be key to how I help to guide our registrars
towards the care and maintenance of our new media works for years to come.