There are so many conservation labs in New York City, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to visit them all! Thanks to my summer spent at MoMA and my student colleagues interning at the Met, I was able to make it to two–and two fascinating ones at that.
First, we took a trip to the Guggenheim labs, located not at the museum proper but across town, where there’s plenty of space and a lovely view of the river. We arranged the visit with Paper Conservator Jeffrey Warda, who kindly showed us his lab and screened part of Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque. The piece was first given as a live presentation by Smithson in 1972 and is now a timed slideshow accompanied by a recording of his voice. From a conservation standpoint, this piece is challenging because the color and intensity of the slides are constantly changing due to the light exposure, especially since some slides are projected for 30 seconds at a time and others for 10 minutes. Jeffrey’s solution to this problem, for now, was to make multiple copies of the piece to replace the current ones when they’ve faded. Eventually, though, the materials will all be extinct, and the Guggenheim may have to compromise some aspect of Smithson’s original vision.
While at the Guggenheim, we also had the opportunity to meet Time-based Media Conservator Joanna Phillips. This is an area of conservation that makes my head spin because of its complexities, and I really have to hand it to these conservators who are basically starting from scratch in creating this specialty. You can read more about the Guggenheim’s efforts on this wonderful new section of their website: Time-based Media Conservation.
The week following our Guggenheim visit, we rented a car and escaped the city. Destination: the quaint town of Milford, NJ. In the middle of the town, inside a beautiful old opera house is the private photographic conservation practice The Better Image (TBI). TBI was founded in 1991 by Peter Mustardo and Nora Kennedy (also the Sherman Fairchild Conservator of Photographs at the Met), and has two locations, one of them in Manhattan. The Milford location has much more space, so that is where much of the large-scale treatment work is completed. Personally, having always worked in a museum, I have never seen this much treatment done on photographs, so this really opened up my eyes (in a good way) to what private practice could be like.
Recent WUDPAC grad Amanda Maloney showed us many of their in-progress treatments, and chatted with us for awhile about the current state of photograph preservation. Peter gave us the tour of their extensive and beautiful library housed on the stage, then treated us to a delicious lunch at Ma De’s Chat House. We also met Richard Stenman, another WUDPAC grad, but we had to leave in time to beat traffic back to the city. Needless to say, we were all sad to leave.
All in all, these visits, along with the many photo exhibitions I saw this summer, make me very excited to begin studying photograph conservation in depth…starting this week!!