“Nothing is permanent, but change.” This quote from the famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus is particularly relevant when thinking about the conservation of artworks. Changes are inevitable, and these changes—whether physical, chemical, or visual—can alter an artist’s original work of art and affect the way viewers receive and understand that work. At the core of modern conservation practice is the study of these changes, which cannot be achieved without a thorough understanding of the artist’s materials and techniques. The “art” of conservation is simultaneously to honor the inevitable change while staying as close to the artist’s intentions as possible. This exhibition introduces the field of art conservation, its multidisciplinary foundation—art, art history, science and technology—and its fundamental goals and values. It will also highlight techniques conservators commonly use to enhance our understanding of an artist’s materials and methods, with a goal of enriching the viewers’ connoisseurship and allowing the importance of the artist’s work to be more readily apparent.
The discipline of art conservation is particularly relevant to the Clyfford Still collection. The Museum houses the majority of Still’s work, most of which has never been publically viewed. Most of the paintings were rolled almost immediately after completion and have undergone a variety of changes that render some unexhibitable in their current condition. Furthermore, there is not yet a definitive understanding of Still’s intentions, even as he himself observed changes occurring in his own pictures. As stewards for the majority of this artist’s work, we are tasked to interpret these changes and find the appropriate balance between materiality and intentionality.
Every other Tuesday during the course of the exhibition visitors have the opportunity to interact with our conservators, James Squires and Pam Skiles, as they conserve paintings in the galleries.
This exhibition is generously supported by Judy and Rick Schiff.