Who are you? Some kind of a conservator or something?
Who am I? I'm still working on that one. I consider it a work in progress. Maybe a similar question would be "How did you get into conservation?"
I got an undergraduate degree in Art History and wanted to try for something a little more hands on. After fulfilling pretty intensive prerequisites, I was accepted into the Buffalo State College Art Conservation Dept. Following graduation, I was an intern and then contractor at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and then was awarded a fellowship in the conservation of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. I grew up in Export though my family moved away when I was in the third grade. I came to know and love Pittsburgh revisiting the city later in life.
Go Export! You recently moved here from New York? I hear that the arts are kind of a big deal there. By comparison what strengths or weaknesses have you noticed in Pittsburgh's arts community?
Yes- I just moved here from NYC. There are lots of differences in the two scenes and I find Pittsburgh's art scene to be refreshing, compared to the stiffness of the NY gallery scene. The New York art scene, though exciting, fits the stereotype so well. Plus, many people's experiences of NY's art scene is through their camera lenses. I love that the Pittsburgh art scene represents a wider variety of people and the events are open and welcoming. The art is more accessible and there are more ways to interact with the artists involved and understand how it relates to Pittsburgh as a city.
Go Pittsburgh! Maybe this is too elementary but for the enlightenment of all readers can you explain what a conservator does?
Many people don't know what a conservator does and how it differs from art restoration. Conservators are generally graduates of a recognized Conservation MA or MS program where we are trained in the preservation, conservation, and maintenance of artwork. Conservators adhere to a code of ethics that stresses minimal intervention, reversibility and documentation. Aside from the actual restoration process, we are trained in the science of the materials, analysis, and prevention of further deterioration. Restoration is the act of aesthetically returning a piece back to its assumed original state. I'm trying to educate people on that difference with my own work and outreach.
Cool. We need conservators. Can you tell me about one of your favorite conservation projects?
One of my favorite previous treatments, which combined both research and hands on treatment, involved removing 15 year old ketchup from the surface of a Frank Stella painting while at the National Gallery of Art. Ketchup got on the artwork when two children were playing in the gallery with ketchup packets. The ketchup was analyzed to determine insoluble components that might remain on the surface. What remained of the ketchup was removed, and the surface was retouched, as the acidic nature of the ketchup had affected the surface quality and appearance of the painting. I even called Heinz to ask what could have been in the ketchup but got no response.
That makes sense because Heinz' ketchup recipe is a guarded Pittsburgh secret. That's why Heinz ketchup is the best of all ketchups. What are you working on now?
My work now is mostly focused on building connections and education. Pittsburgh is a small city in that you can meet a few people and have connections to most anyone in the art scene. The more information I can share about conservation, the larger the field can grow and people can become more active in preserving their art and cultural heritage. I have started to make client connections but that takes time. I will be exhibiting at the upcoming Preservation Fair at the end of the Month. I encourage anyone who has a work of art or photograph to come and meet their local conservators.
Pittsburgh is obsessed with its own history. We really do love our past but ironically preservation has not been a consistent priority throughout our renaissances - we've parted with a long list of beautiful architecture, a historic jazz district, public art, and various other panels of our cultural quilt. What should we as proud Pittsburghers be focused on preserving now before it is too late?
Conservation education ties into people's understanding of preserving history on a grander scale. I can't speak about the architecture here, because I've only been here a few months and haven't seen the changes that other long-time residents have. But, I do feel the key to preservation is education. Once people know what is possible, they're willing to fight and preserve what's left, especially if they want the city to retain its character during periods of growth and change. I hope it does.
Me too. So, I'd like to ask you about the conservation of digital art. How is that going to work? Some really smart guy at Google coined the term "Digital Dark Age". Is there a movement in the conservator community to address that concern, like a Digital Monk preserving monastic code? Someone tell the Google guy I coined "Digital Monk".
Digital conservation is totally a big thing. There exist specialists that deal with generational loss and file corruption. Museums with collections of digital and electronic media are forming initiatives and special conservation labs to address their particular needs. Museums are also taking the lead in interviewing living artists to determine how to best preserve their media. So much of the conservation process involves archiving the needs and expectations of the artist and determining how to appropriately exhibit pieces into the future. There is a whole MA program at the Tisch school of art at NYU in moving image archiving and preservation that deal more specifically with this.
This is really interesting and I could keep asking you questions. But we only have so much time and I don't want you to bill me. So what are you looking for as an arts professional in Pittsburgh and how can GPAC help?
Since I am on a mission of education, I am looking for ways to interact with the public. I'm also looking for ways in which the art scene overlaps. Since everyone is connected somehow, it's nice to discover upcoming events that force mixing and mingling. I am also looking for ways to meet more artists. It's very helpful to see them at work and learn about their materials and techniques because it informs my work and how I would approach treatment. The artist's intent is all important when knowing what to preserve or if a work should be preserved. On many occasions, conservators have worked with artists to inform them about what they're using and how to better use the materials they have, without influencing the vision or final outcome.
How can people get in touch with you if they want to hire you or invite you to something?
Contact me through Alba Art Conservation's website or come meet me in person at the upcoming Preservation Fair happening on March 28, 2015 at Carnegie Music Hall. Details on the Preservation Fair can be found here