Conservation

Founded in 2001, the Whitney's conservation department preserves works of art in the Museum’s collection so that they may be exhibited and made accessible to scholars and the general public. From the outset, it was designed to be both a treatment and research center; it embraces innovative approaches to the treatment and technical study of works of contemporary and modern art. Conceived as a partner with the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art at the Harvard Art Museums, it shares in the Center's dissemination of information through teaching, lecturing, and publication.


WATCH: CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO AND YVE-ALAIN BOIS ON ART CONSERVATION

October 6, 2016: Carol Mancusi-Ungaro presents a lecture entitled “The Falsification of Time,” a term used by artist Sol LeWitt. The lecture positions complex issues associated with the art of our time, including replication and 3D printing, in the historical context of art conservation. Yve-Alain Bois, Professor of Art History at the Institute for Advanced Study, joins Mancusi-Ungaro in conversation after the lecture.

WATCH: CONSERVING CALDER’S CIRCUS

Whitney conservators Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Eleonora Nagy, archivist Anita Duquette, and art historian Joan Simon describe the process of restoring one of the most beloved works in the Whitney’s collection, Calder’s Circus.

CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO WHITNEY STORIES

Associate director for conservation and research Carol Mancusi-Ungaro discusses the importance of the artist’s voice in contemporary art conservation and the development of the new building’s Conservation Center.


case studies

The conservation department makes and implements decisions regarding treatments through constant review of the collection, and in response to requests to display specific works. The goal of every treatment is to present the work as originally intended insofar as we know through artist interviews and other avenues of research. In some cases, works that are known to be unstable are considered for treatment regardless of exhibition priorities.

ARSHILE GORKY

These two paintings by Arshile Gorky, The Artist and His Mother, 1926–36 (left), and Painting, 1936–37 (right), were treated in preparation for inclusion in a retrospective of the artist’s work. Surface grime and discolored varnish had formerly obscured the original colors and altered the variation in gloss and saturation as intended by the artist. Some passages of Painting were structurally unstable and required local consolidation before travel. Freed from temporary disfigurements, the newly restored paintings engender a greater understanding of Gorky’s materials and painting technique.

  • Young boy standing next to a seated woman

    Arshile Gorky (c. 1902-1948), The Artist and His Mother, 1926-c.1936. Oil on canvas, 60 × 50 1/4in. (152.4 × 127.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Julien Levy for Maro and Natasha Gorky in memory of their father 50.17 © 2017 The Arshile Gorky Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY

  • Arshile Gorky (1904–1948), Painting, 1936–37. Oil on canvas, 38 × 48 in. (96.52 × 121.92 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 37.39

CLAES OLDENBURG

Both Whitney staff and artist Claes Oldenburg had long considered Ice Bag–Scale C problematic. Technical problems had plagued the giant mechanized sculpture since shortly after its creation in 1971. In consultation with the Oldenburg, a team of conservators, engineers, and other specialists corrected mistakes that had been made in both its initial fabrication and in later attempts at restoration. The piece now operates as the artist had intended for the first time in decades. This innovative treatment was discussed by The New York Times on May 15, 2009.

EDWARD HOPPER

In 1909 Edward Hopper painted these paintings, Bridge on the Seine (left) and Le Pont Royal (right), while living in Paris. Over time, accumulated dirt and discolored varnish had obscured the paint layers. In addition, the varnish that had been applied was felt to be too glossy and out of keeping with the sensitive tonality of the paintings. Removal of these layers revealed the true colors of the brighter palette that Hopper was developing at this time, and the application of a more sympathetic layer of varnish resulted in a more appropriate surface. The treatment of these Hopper works was done in conjunction with ongoing research within the Whitney’s collection into the artist’s materials and technique.

  • Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Le Pont Royal, 1909. Oil on canvas, 24 × 29 in. (60.96 x 73.66 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; bequest of Josephine N. Hopper 70.1175

  • Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Bridge on the Seine, 1909. Oil on canvas, 23 9/16 × 28 13/16 in. (59.85 x 73.18 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; bequest of Josephine N. Hopper 70.1176


DONALD JUDD

Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1965, had been severely altered due to an inappropriate repainting of the piece at some point in the past, prompting Judd to declare it unexhibitable.

GEORGE SEGAL

All three of the Whitney’s George Segal sculptures—The Bus Station, 1965 (left),Walk, Don’t Walk, 1976 (middle), and Girl in a Doorway, 1965 (right)—have required treatment for a variety of reasons over time.  Recently, the figures were stabilized, minor surface grime was reduced, and the proper alignment of the forms within their formats was researched and documented. Despite sundry individual problems, they were treated as a group because a unity of vision and goals during the undertaking positively impacted the result.

  • George Segal (1924–2000), Girl in Doorway, 1965. Plaster, wood, glass and aluminum paint, 112 3/16 × 65 1/8 × 33 3/16in. (285 × 165.4 × 84.3cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 65.49a-b

  • George Segal (1924–2000). _Walk, Don't Walk_, 1976. Plaster, cement, metal, painted wood and electric light, 109 1/8 × 72 × 74 3/8in. (277.2 × 182.9 × 188.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation, Inc., Seymour M. Klein, President, the Gilman Foundation, Inc., the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation, Inc. and the National Endowment for the Arts 79.4a-f Art © The George and Helen Segal Foundation, Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.

  • George Segal (1924–2000), The Bus Station, 1965. Plaster, wood, melamine laminate, metal, vinyl, cardboard and leather, 96 1/4 × 59 1/8 × 29 3/4in. (244.5 × 150.2 × 75.6cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Howard and Jean Lipman 81.22a-f


Carol Mancusi-Ungaro interviewing Ed Ruscha in front of Large Trademark with Eight Spotlights (1962), part of the Whitney’s permanent collection. Photograph by Heather Cox

ARTISTS DOCUMENTATION PROGRAM

The Artists Documentation Program (ADP) interviews artists and their close associates in order to gain a better understanding of their materials, working techniques, and intent for conservation of their works. The ADP was established in 1990 at The Menil Collection, Houston, by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, the former chief conservator at the Menil and currently the Melva Bucksbaum associate director for conservation and research at the Whitney and founding director of the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art at the Harvard Art Museums. The program is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and in partnership with the Whitney Museum of American Art and Harvard Art Museums.

VISIT THE ADP WEBSITE


CONSERVATION FELLOWS

Conservation Fellows is a support group that focuses on the Whitney’s research involving artists’ materials and techniques. Participants engage in ongoing discussions regarding trends and challenges specific to the preservation of works included in current exhibitions or unconventional works of art in the Whitney's collection.

The Conservation Fellows examine an infrared reflectogram of Thomas Hart Benton's Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire)

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro discusses Number 27 (1950) by Jackson Pollock

March 20, 2017
Art as Process: The 
2017 Whitney Biennial: Unpacking the Technical Challenges
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

January 10, 2017
Art as Process: The Preservation of Time-Based Media in 
Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro with special guest artist Anthony McCall

September 28, 2016
Art as Process: The Challenge of Ephemeral Art

Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

January 26, 2016
Art as Process: Frank Stella: A Retrospective

Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

October 8, 2015
Art as Process: Archibald Motley and the Diversity of Oil Paint
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Carter Foster

May 15, 2015
Private Viewing of the new Bucksbaum, Learsy, Scanlan Conservation Center and Sondra Gilman Study Center
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Carter Foster 

February 10, 2015
Art as Process: Exclusive Visit to the Cy Twombly Foundation
Tour and lecture by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

September 16, 2014
Art as Process: Jeff Koons

Led by Scott Rothkopf, Joshua Rosenblatt, and Margo Delidow

January 23, 2014
Art as Process: Visit and Tour of Donald Judd’s Studio

Led by Eleonora Nagy

September 17, 2013
Art as Process: Hopper Drawing

Led by Carter Foster and Matthew Skopek 

May 6, 2013
Art as Process: Looking at Jay DeFeo: A Retrospectivethrough the lens of artist and conservator

Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

April 10, 2012
A Spotlight on Conservation: Conserving Calder’s Circus

Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Eleonora Nagy, Joan Simon, and Anita Duquette

March 22, 2011
A Spotlight on Conservation: Singular Visions

Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Scott Rothkopf

November 8, 2010
A Spotlight on Conservation: Paul Thek

Led by Eleonora Nagy

May 11, 2010
Dialogues on Materiality: In Conversation with Artist Dario Robleto

Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Dario Robleto

March 31, 2010
Dialogues on Materiality: Conserving the Whitney Biennials

Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro 

October 26, 2009
Dialogues on Materiality: Presenting Georgia O’Keeffe

Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Dale Kronkright

May 12, 2009
Restoring a Twelve-Foot Ice Bag
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Eleonora Nagy

April 6, 2009
Mark Rothko’s Mural Commissions
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

November 12, 2008
Encountering Jackson Pollock
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

May 21, 2008
The Lure of the Object: 2008 Biennial
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Matthew Skopek

February 26, 2008
An Investigative Eye into the Practice of Jackson Pollock and Donald Judd
Led by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Narayan Khandekar, and James Martin


lectures

The Falsification of Time
October 6, 2016 at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro presented her revised Forbes Prize lecture delivered at the IIC Conference Congress the previous month. Yve-Alain Bois, Professor of Art History at the Institute for Advanced Study, joined Mancusi-Ungaro in conversation after the lecture.

The Falsification of Time
September 12, 2016 at The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) Congress

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro delivered this lecture after being awarded the Forbes Prize for outstanding work in the field of conservation at the IIC Congress, held in Los Angeles, California.

Innovative Conservation Collaborations
May 6, 2013 at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Art Museum Curators

Matthew Skopek paticipated on a panel during the 12th annual meeting of AAM

The Replication Committee: A Collaborative Effort to Address the Role of the Replica at the Whitney Museum of American Art
June 10, 2013 at the Institute of Fine Art at New York University

Matthew Skopek was a lecturer at the Summer Institute in Technical Art History

Whom Do We Fail?  
December 6–8, 2013 at Hamburger Kunsthalle
Eleonora Nagy gave a lecture as part of "Fail Better: Verband der Restauratoren Symposium about Conservation Practice and Decision Making in Modern and Contemporary Art" 

Donald Judd: The Multicolored Works: A Conservator’s Approach to Color and Color Science
October 19, 2013 at The Pulitzer Foundation of Arts

Lecture delivered by Eleonora Nagy

Remediation of Impact Damage on Modern And Contemporary Sheet Metal Sculpture: Conservation Treatment of Donald Judd’s Stack
September 16-20, 2013 at the ICOM- Metal Interim Conference, Edinburgh, Scotland

Lecture presented by Eleonora Nagy and W. Zahner

Cues from Cy Twombly
April 17, 2013 at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Lecture presented by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, the Institute of Fine Art’s Judith Praska Distinguished Visiting Professorship in Conservation and Technical Studies

Twenty Years of documenting the Artist’s Voice
March 7-8, 2013 at the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro was a key speaker at the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art – North America (INCCA-NA) Artist Interview Methodology Workshop

Conversation about Barnett Newman
September 24, 2011 at the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas

Lecture presented by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro related to the history, presence and preservation of Newman’s sculpture Broken Obelisk, which stands in a reflecting pool south of the Rothko Chapel’s main entrance 

The Elusive Original
February 22, 2011 at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro spoke as part of the Daniel H. Silberberg Lecture Series program

Barnett Newman
October 16, 2010 at the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro lectured about Barnett Newman and the discoveries made during the process of compiling his catalogue raisonne 

Collection Documentation Initiative: Conservators’ Perspective
September 18, 2010 at the Western Association for Art Conservation, Seattle, WA

Whitney contract conservators Claire Gerhard and Megan Berkey presented a paper at WAAC’s annual meeting with an overview of their 3-year project reviewing the Whitney’s17,000 works of art on paper and photographs

Is Art Timeless?
April 22, 2010 at Smith College, Northampton, MA

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro gave a lecture at the symposium “Telling Time: It’s Meaning and Measurement”

The Ultimate Painting
September 13, 2009 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Panel co-moderated by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro as part of the symposium, "Imageless: The Scientific Analysis and Experimental Treatment of an Ad Reinhardt Black Painting"

Artist’s Voice: History’s Claim
January 24–16, 2008 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles
Panel moderated by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro as part of “The Object in Transition: A Cross-Disciplinary Conference on the Preservation and Study of Modern and Contemporary Art”

Encountering Newman
January 24–16, 2008 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles
Lecture presented by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Yve-Alain Bois as part of "The Object in Transition: A Cross-Disciplinary Conference on the Preservation and Study of Modern and Contemporary Art"

Modern Paints Uncovered Symposium
May 16–19, 2006 at the Tate Modern in London
Narayan Khandekar presented research done by a team of Whitney conservators and Harvard scientists on the Whitney's Donald Judd, Untitled, 1965


publications

Re-thinking the cleaning of Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Cake (Giant Piece of Cake)
By Margo Delidow and Cynthia Albertson, in the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Objects Specialty Group Postprints, Volume 17 (2010).

The Conservation of Christo/Paik Wrapped TV (1967): Documentation and Treatment of a Collaborative Artwork
By Margo Delidow, Jessica Pace and Eric Meier, in the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Volume 55, Number 4, (November 2016).

Remediation of Impact Damage of Modern and Contemporary Sheet Metal Sculpture: Conservation Treatment of Donald Judd’s Stack
By Eleonora E. Nagy and William Zahner in In print; ICOM-CC Metals 2013 (Edinburgh, Scotland, 2013). 

Disfiguring organic residues on industrially produced sheet metal coupons simulating copper and brass works of art by Donald Judd: attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy analysis and treatment recommendations
By Eleonora E. Nagy, Karlis Adamsons, and Kate Moomaw in Studies in Conservation (January 2013).

Cues from Cy Twombly
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro in Cy Twombly Gallery, The Menil Collection (Houston, TX, 2013).

Disfiguring organic residues on industrially produced sheet metal coupons simulating copper and brass works of art by Donald Judd 
By Eleonora E. Nagy; Karlis Adamsons; Kate Moomaw in Studies in Conservation (January 2013).

When Material Becomes Art
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro in Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY, 2012).

Landmarks Preservation: Conserving the Monochrome
By Carol Mancusi-Ungaro in Artforum (Summer 2011).

Treatment of Claes Oldenburg’s Ice Bag—Scale C, An Interdisciplinary Approach
By Eleonora E. Nagy, Steven Berger, Ken Parker, Vladimir Schuster, Julian Miller, Jan Girard, and Carol Mancusi-Ungaro in International Council of Museums, Committee for Conservation, 16th Triennial Conference Abstract (Lisbon, Portugal, 2011).

Le Pèlerinage en Peinture de Barnett Newman
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro. in Barnett Newman Écrits, Éditions Macula (Paris, France, 2011).

Treatment of Donald Judd’s Untitled 1977: Retention of Original Acrylic Sheets
By Eleonora Nagy, Bettina Landgrebe and Shelley Smith in American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (Philadelphia, 2011).

Delicate Matter: Two Conservation Case Studies on the Work of Paul Thek
By Eleonora E. Nagy with an introduction by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro in Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY, 2010).

A Technical Analysis of Three Paintings Attributed to Jackson Pollock
By Narayan Khandekar, Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Harry Cooper, Christina Rosenberger, Katherine Eremin, Kate Smith, Jens Stenger and Dan Kirby in Studies in Conservation; The Journal of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Volume 55, Number 3 (London, England, 2010).

Guidelines for the Care and Handling of Donald Judd’s Works in Metals
By Eleonora Nagy (2009).
Online manual for recommendations regarding care and handling of Donald Judd’s metal works

Golden MSA Colors
By Matthew Skopek in Painting Conservation Catalogue, Volume III: Inpainting, American Institute of Conservation, 2009.

A Sum of Corrections
Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro in Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965, National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C., 2007).

Material and Process: Gordon Matta-Clark’s Object Legacy
By Christian Scheidemann in Gordon Matta-Clark: You are the Measure, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY, 2007).

The Re-restoration of Donal Judd’s Untitled, 1965
By Narayan Khandekar, Eleonora E. Nagy, Julian Miller, Pia Gottschaller, and Carol Mancusi-Ungaro in Modern Paints Uncovered, The Getty Conservation Institute (Los Angeles, CA, 2006).

Matthew Barney’s Stadium; A Treatment of Replacements
By Margo Delidow, Roger Griffith, Scott Gerson, Plastics: Looking at the Future, Learning from the Past, edited by Brenda Keneghan and Louise Egan.  Archetype Publications (London, 2008).

Calder's Once and Future Circus: A Conservator's Perspective
By Eleonora Nagy and Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, in Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926–1933, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, 2008).

The Rothko Chapel Paintings: A Personal Account
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, in Image of the Not-Seen: Search for Understanding, The Rothko Chapel Art Series, The Rothko Chapel (Houston, 2007).

Marden’s Materiality: The Monochromes
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, in Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, The Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2006).

The Re-restoration of Donald Judd's Untitled, 1965
By Narayan Khandekar, Eleonora Nagy, Julian Miller, Pia Gottschaller, and Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, Modern Paints Uncovered, The Getty Conservation Institute (Los Angeles, CA, 2006).

Material and Method in Modern Art: A Collaborative Challenge
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, in in Scientific Examination of Art: Modern Techniques in Conservation and Analysis, National Academy of Sciences (Washington, D.C. 2005).

In Search of Permanence: Oscar Bluemner's Materials and Techniques
Ulrich Birkmaier, in Oscar Bluemner: A Passion for Color, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, 2005).

The Paintings of Barnett Newman: "Involved Intuition on the Highest Level"
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, in Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, The Barnett Newman Foundation and Yale University Press (New York, 2004).

Embracing Humility in the Shadow of the Artist
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, in Personal Viewpoints: Thoughts on Painting Conservation, The Getty Conservation Institute (Los Angeles, 2003). 

Time and Change: A Discussion about the Conservation of Modern and Contemporary Art
By Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Jim Coddington, and Kurt Varnedoe, moderated by Jeffrey Levin in Conservation: The Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter. Volume 17, Number 3 (Los Angeles, 2002).

Jackson Pollock: Response as Dialogue
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro in Jackson Pollock: New Approaches, edited by Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel, Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1999).

Material and Immaterial Surface: The Paintings of Rothko
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, in Mark Rothko, National Gallery of Art (Washington DC, 1998).

Nuances of Surface in the Rothko Chapel Paintings
By Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro, in Mark Rothko: The Chapel Commission, The Menil Collection (Houston, 1996).


Replication Committee Meeting, May 5, 2015. Photograph by Heather Cox

REPLICATION COMMITTEE

The Replication Committee addresses issues related to the duplication of works of art in the permanent collection and/or related collections for various purposes associated with the Museum's program. It meets monthly to discuss pressing issues of replication and associated matters of refabrication, exhibition copies, and authentication. The intent is to institute a more rigorous and consistent approach in terms of policy and practice through critical review of precedent within the institution with an eye toward resolution of current issues. 

The Replication Committee is made up of curators, conservators, the Head Registrar, the Manager of Rights and Reproductions, the Director of Research Resources, and General Council. The work done by the committee was recently featured in The New Yorker magazine. 


IN THE NEWS

"The Custodians: How the Whitney is transforming the art of museum conservation."
The New Yorker

"No Preservatives | Preservation, Perfection and Patina: Eleonora Nagy Discusses Conserving Judd’s Art"
Art21

Audio: "Conserving Digital Art"
WNYC, The Leonard Lopate Show

"Material & Method in Modern Art"
NYU Institute of Fine Arts, Newsgram Issue 28

"Retter für Kaputte Kunst"
GEO Magazin

Audio: "After Decades In Storage, Damaged Rothko Murals Get High-Tech Restoration"
NPR, All Things Considered

Video: "Restoring Rothko"
Tate

Video: "Using Science to Preserve Art"
The New York Times

“The Improvised Remedies of an Art Healer”
The New York Times

"Art Pick: Tale of the Tape"
The New Yorker

"A Low Cost Show Reinflates a Big Bag"
The New York Times

"Going Softly Into a Parallel Universe"
The New York Times

"With a Coat of New Paint, Revealing the True Judd"
The New York Times

“'What Happens when I die?' The Whitney Museum is interviewing artists on video to document their instructions for the conservation of their art"
—The Art Newspaper (International Edition)

“Chiedere agli artisti come conservare le loro opre d’arte”
—la Repubblica/The New York Times

“Giving the Artists a Voice in Preserving Their Work”
The New York Times


SUPPORT CONSERVATION

To make a contribution to the conservation department, please call (212) 570-3642.


Support for Conservation at the Whitney Museum of American Art is provided by the Whitney’s Conservation Fellows with endowment support provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.