Paper Session 4a: Case Studies: approaches and treatments

The discussion concluding the first session of ‘Case studies: approaches and treatments’ raised the role of the conservator as ‘co-producer’, a concept proposed a day earlier by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro’s in her 2016 Forbes Prize lecture, ‘The Falsification of Time’. Testing the concept beyond reference to Sol LeWitt’s work was a reoccurring theme throughout the Congress, although no clear answers were made immediately apparent, particularly relating to the issue of double-dating. One comment from the audience called into question the way the term ‘co-producer’ places the conservator on an equal footing to artists, suggesting perhaps ‘sub-producer’ could be more appropriate.

Nevertheless, the complexity of the treatment approaches presented in the session demonstrated the case-by-case decision-making process that each treatment often involves. Trying new methods and approaches is also dependent on the circumstance, as illustrated by Samantha Skelton’s agarose gel treatment of a large-scale stain painting by Morris Louis. The work’s non-accession status at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, expanded the scope for treatment and allowed techniques from textile conservation to be drawn upon with successful results. Samantha’s persistence in undertaking the treatment work would have certainly also been a contributing factor to its success. Similarly, persistence proved effective in Julia Nagle and Lyndsey Morgan’s treatment of a contemporary lacquered screen to reinstate an area of cracked and delaminated lacquer. Working within the private conservation sector, a conservation treatment approach with documentation was seen to add value to the work, than simply getting the screen re-fabricated.

It becomes even more interesting when reflections on treatment work lead to consideration of what could have been done differently. J. Luca Ackerman’s reflections on work completed on Cindy Sherman’s A Play of Selves, expressed his preference for double-dating to acknowledge the commercial reprinting of elements of the original 1975 work, as well as recognising the artist’s hand in the original processing of the photographic prints in a darkroom. Advocating to keep the discoloured elements in the photographic piece as historically representative of the age of darkroom photography was also reflected upon.

Post by: Raymonda Rajkowski