The butterfly effect: A case study on the value of artist collaboration in the conservation of ephemeral material

Crista Pack, Mina Thompson, and Tasha Ostrander


A recent acquisition by the New Mexico Museum of Art provided conservators at the Museums of New Mexico with the unique opportunity to collaborate with artist Tasha Ostrander in the preservation of her artwork Seventy-three in a Moment. Consisting of 26,645 Xeroxed paper butterflies glued to Masonite, the 10-ft. diameter artwork presented conservators with the challenge of preserving the concept of the piece while faced with the transient nature of ephemeral materials.

The conservation of this artwork is discussed as a case study of the challenges presented by such a treatment. Meeting these challenges often requires a slight shift in conventional conservation practice. Collaborations with other conservators, scientists, and specialists in allied fields are becoming more frequent and can allow for new insights into traditional approaches and techniques. However, one of the most significant changes in conservation practices in the past few decades has been the integration of the artist’s voice and opinion into preservation strategy.

Interviewing the artist provides valuable insight into the artist’s materials, techniques, and goals for the piece. From the standpoint of the conservator, this aligns with our ethical mandate that all actions must be governed by an informed respect for the cultural property, its unique character and significance, and the people or person who created it. Full collaboration often takes this a step further and invites the artist to participate in the conservation process. This collaboration sometimes leads to treatments that may feel more (or less) interventive than with which a conservator is comfortable and requires a thorough consideration by the conservator as to the merits and disadvantages of the desired outcomes. It also requires an open dialogue between conservator and artist to ensure that concerns and goals are sufficiently addressed.

For this case study, conservators Mina Thompson and Crista Pack discuss these issues in relation to their experiences with the treatment of Seventy-three in a Moment and the artist collaboration it required. Additionally, artist Tasha Ostrander provides a meaningful look at the conservation process from the artist’s perspective. The goal of this article is to emphasize the value of artist collaboration through a look at a specific treatment project involving ephemeral materials.

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2015 | Miami | Volume 22