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The Conservation Department at the Whitney Museum was founded in 2001. From the outset, it was designed to be both a treatment and research center. As such, it moved into a reclaimed and renovated modest space within the current building designed by Marcel Breuer. 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.

Whitney Stories is a video series and online publication offering a behind-the-scenes look at the Whitney as it prepares for its move downtown in 2015. Two new features highlight the work of the Museum’s conservation team:

Whitney Stories

Whitney Stories Video: Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

Whitney Stories Video: Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

This first installment of the fifteen-part Whitney Stories video series features Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, the Whitney’s Associate Director for Conservation and Research.

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Artists Documentation Program

The Artists Documentation Program (ADP) was established in 1990 at The Menil Collection, Houston, by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, the former chief conservator at the Menil and currently 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. Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and in partnership with the Whitney Museum of American Art and Harvard Art Museums, the 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.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Terry Winters discuss Picasso and American Art. Photograph by Tanya Ahmed

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro and Terry Winters discuss Picasso and American Art. Photograph by Tanya Ahmed

Treatments

The Conservation Department preserves works of art in the Whitney’s collection so that they may be exhibited and made accessible to scholars and the general public. Through constant review of the collection or in response to requests for exhibition, either at the Whitney or from another institution, decisions regarding specific treatments are made and implemented. In some cases, works that are known to be unstable may be considered for treatment regardless of exhibition priorities. Technical research and study of related works are part of the preparation for any treatment, and often a group of related pieces will be treated concurrently. The goal of every treatment is to present the work as originally intended, in so far as we know through artist interviews and other avenues of research, so that the public may enjoy an informed viewing experience.

Watch: Conserving Calder’s Circus

In this video, 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. The research team enlivens the character of the Circus through contemporary associations and offers a new look at conserving the inherent fragility of the figures that have delighted Whitney audiences for generations.

Case Study
George Segal

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
George Segal (1924–2000), Walk, Don’t Walk, 1976. Plaster, cement, metal, painted wood and electric light, 109 × 72 × 74 3/8in. (276.9 × 182.9 × 188.9cm). 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
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

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.

Dialogues on Materiality

The Dialogues on Materiality series focuses on the Whitney’s research involving artists’ materials and techniques. Participants engage in on-going discussions regarding trends and specific challenges to the preservation of unconventional art. Founded in 2001, the Conservation Department embraces innovative approaches to the treatment and technical study of works of contemporary and modern art in the Whitney’s collection.

Conservation in the News

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 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.

Support for Conservation at the Whitney Museum of American Art is provided by the Tianaderrah Foundation and by members of the Whitney’s Artists Council.