Given the transitory nature of ephemeral materials, built-in physical variability, and performance elements that characterize so much of the art of the last 50 years, conserving contemporary art is not business as usual. The Elise S. Haas Conservation Studio at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is devoted to the care of modern and contemporary works. The conservation studio is integral to the Museum’s exhibitions and acquisitions program, in which American art is featured prominently.
In addition to specialized expertise in painting, sculpture, works on paper, and photography, the studio is committed to addressing the entire range of unorthodox challenges presented by non-traditional art forms, including time-based media. Conservation at SFMOMA is based on interdisciplinary collaborations and the notion that recording information about artists’ materials, processes, and intentions—whenever possible, directly from the artist—may be among the most important contributions that conservators of contemporary art can make toward the future care of the art of our times. SFMOMA has developed two long-term initiatives designed to address these critical shifts in conservation practice that contemporary art requires.
Living Artist Archive: Regular consultation and collaboration with artists contributes to a growing living artist archive. Last year alone, conservators worked with artists such as Adrian Piper, Robert Gober, Tom Friedman, Richard Tuttle, and Gary Hill, obtaining video and audio records of the collaborations for the archive.
Advanced-Level Training in Conservation of Contemporary Art: SFMOMA’s post-graduate fellowship in the conservation of contemporary art is committed to researching the unorthodox artistic methods and preserving the non-traditional materials that are routinely a part of the art of the last 50 years. As the only post-graduate fellowship of its kind in the United States, it has seen increasing interest in, and demand for, this kind of specialized training.