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Thursday, May 16 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(The Evolving Role of the Conservator of Contemporary Art) The Museum as Production Studio - Thomas Hirschhorn’s Intensif-Station (2010)

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Complex artworks such as Thomas Hirschhorn’s Intensif-Station, a walk-in environment which resembles a hospital's ER unit, require both an open-minded approach on part of the conservators and an approachable mind-set on part of the artist, particularly when the artwork is constructed from rapidly degrading materials and kept on display continuously. The artist famously proclaimed his works would ‘last as long as the Cheops pyramid’ - according to Hirschhorn’s concept of precariousness, his works are vulnerable not because of inherent material changes but because they are dependent on the decisions of others. Thus, when his sculptures and collages enter museum collections, there is a danger that the material precarity may be mistaken for ephemerality. Instead of honouring the artist’s concept of renewal inherent in precariousness, standard protective measures such as restricting access to the works may be put in place. Refraining from exhibiting the work for fear of accelerating material change constitutes a perfect example of the pitfalls on the dependency on human decision-making. This case study argues for the benefits of exposure instead. As the investigation of Intensif-Station’s biography (especially its post-accession life) demonstrates, the benefits of having this complex artwork on continuous display are immense. Because the work is on view, the museum was able to track the changes as they occurred and to address them in collaboration with the artist. The tangible material questions put to the artist by conservators resulted in sustained discussion about the artwork’s readability and a weighing of priorities, and finally reaching a consensus. Practical concerns resulted prompted conservators to probe ‘the artist’s intent’. Could the much-problematized notion be reframed as an open-ended process which revolves around recording information, testing it against the artwork, reviewing findings with the artist, and revising accordingly?

avatar for Nina Quabeck

Nina Quabeck

PhD researcher/conservator, University of Glasgow/Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
Nina Quabeck is a conservator of modern and contemporary works. A graduate of Camberwell College of Art, she worked at the conservation department of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen from 2003 to 2016. She was a Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Paper Conservation at the Fine Arts Museums... Read More →

Thursday May 16, 2019 3:00pm - 3:30pm EDT
Salon A2-A3, Uncas Ballroom Sky Convention Center, Mohegan Sun
  General Session, The Evolving Role of the Conservator of Contemporary Art