Variable materials, variable roles: The shifting skills required in contemporary art conservation

Gwynne Ryan


The Hirshhorn Museum, one of the Smithsonian Museums located on the National Mall in Washington DC, houses a collection consisting exclusively of modern and contemporary art. As is the case in many institutions with contemporary holdings, methods of addressing the unique challenges in the preservation of contemporary art are being sought out and developed to accommodate the specific needs of the museum. In response to fundamental shifts in artistic practices, contemporary art conservators are experiencing shifts in their own roles, resulting in a need to incorporate new tools, new skill sets, and a higher level of collaboration into everyday practices. Inspired by many of the current discussions underway in the pursuit of practical solutions, the collections care staff at the Hirshhorn have been exploring ways to modify their fundamental practices in the installation, acquisition, and conservation of contemporary art.

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