From theory to practice: Instituting the Hirshhorn Artist Interview Program

Gwynne Ryan and Steven O’Banion

Abstract

It is becoming widely recognized among conservation professionals that artist interviews play an essential role in the conservation of modern and contemporary artworks. Artists continue to push boundaries by exploring unconventional materials and fabrication techniques. Further considerations have arisen with the advent of installation and conceptual art. Communication with the artist is often necessary to elucidate not just how a work was made but also which components or qualities are central to its meaning, thus requiring preservation. In 2012, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden was awarded a Smithsonian Postgraduate Fellowship in conservation to develop an artist interview program for the institution. Although primarily driven from a preservation perspective, the Hirshhorn Artist Interview Program was a museum-wide initiative with the goal of generating systematic face-to-face dialogues with artists. Th is article explains the motivations behind the creation of the interview program, the challenges that arose during its development, and the future of the program as it becomes integrated into the daily workflows of the conservation lab and the museum as a whole. As a practical example of the ways in which artist interviews can play into treatment choices, the conservation of an installation by Ann Hamilton is presented.

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