I met Anna Somers Cocks while studying at the Courtauld. My class organized a debate on museum de-accessioning, and she served as a panelist along with Sir Mark Jones (then director of the V&A). Since then, I have heard her name mentioned here and there, mostly associated with The Art Newspaper—an online and print newspaper that she founded in 1990 to cover art world topics.
Today, I opened my June issue of News in Conservation to find that she was the first recipient of the International Institute for Conservation’s Advocate Award, recognized for her efforts to promote heritage conservation. The article (on page 6) includes an interview between ASC and IIC President Jerry Podany. I just wanted to highlight some of her responses, as they combine two of the conservation issues that interest me most: outreach and contemporary art.
JP: How do you think conservators need to change their approach to communication?
ASC: You have to think about what will catch the imagination of the public and, for that matter, the trustees, if you are going to defend your budgets and your existence…Full technical reports are vital, but you don’t have to burden lay people with them. You should be able to communicate the essence of what has been done in plain English. When I was at the V&A the conservation department wore white coats, represented science and were “over there”, while the art historians were somewhere else and there was very little interaction. That has to change.
JP: What would be your advice to the profession so that it remains sustainable, particularly in this time of economic downturn?
ASC: I would draw attention to the time bomb that awaits us in the form of the art of the twentieth century and onward. A lot of this art is auto-destructing because craftsmanship was not part of the artists’ intentions. I would advise the conservation sector to look at the art market and look at where the interest is: contemporary art is now more important in terms of the market than older art. I believe there will be a need or a large number of professionals who can deal with the multifarious objects and materials that artists have chosen and will choose to make their art works. It is going to be very scientifically challenging.
Hmmm…I could say a lot about either of these quotes but I’m wondering, what do you think?
Anna Somers Cocks in her role as Chairperson of the Venice in Peril Foundation (above).