You are invited to The Party: A multi-disciplinary approach to treatment of a complex mixed media artwork by Marisol Escobar

Suzanne Hargrove, Emily Cummins, and Marissa Stevenson


The diverse nature of modern and contemporary artworks challenges conservators to think beyond the scope of any single discipline. Treating multi-component pieces provides an opportunity for conservators to collaborate, develop, and implement an all-encompassing treatment plan. This paper demonstrates how bridging disciplines enables conservators to better understand and treat multi-component artworks.  

The Toledo Museum of Art’s (TMA) monumental sculpture The Party by Marisol Escobar (1930-2016) exemplifies mixed media conservation challenges. Created in 1965-1966, this 15-piece life-size ensemble consisting of abstracted free-standing wood figures is embellished with handmade and found objects including costume, fashion accessories, photographs, decoupage, paper, plastic, plaster, glass, metal, electronic media, ceramic, and paint. These elements are often adhered or nailed in place which prohibits disassembly, meaning many figures will need to remain standing for treatment. This requires an innovative, multi-disciplinary approach combining the expertise of objects, textile, paper, and painting conservators as well as a review of Marisol’s working techniques to ensure treatment does not infringe on her creative process. To accomplish this large-scale treatment, the TMA team consisting of Suzanne Hargrove (Head of Conservation, Objects), Emily Cummins (Mellon Fellow, Objects), and Marissa Stevenson (Kress Fellow, Multi-Media Textiles) worked with contract conservators Mark Bockrath (Paintings), and Jamye Jamison (Paper) to address conservation concerns and develop treatment protocols. 

The mixed media elements of The Party have conflicting chemical and physical properties, and their unconventional application has resulted in degradation. A 2020 conservation assessment for loan revealed issues such as overall fading, textiles with inadequate support, wallpaper lifting and splitting, plastic yellowing and crizzling, wood cracking, adhesives aging poorly, metals corroding, and electronic components failing. While there are condition concerns for all categories of materials, the bulk of treatment needs can be seen where specialties converge. 

This project will demonstrate how the fragility and treatment needs of the disparate materials dictates a unique course of action. As artists combine materials in non-traditional ways, the need for cross-disciplinary collaboration will become more prevalent. The collaborative approach to the treatment of Marisol’s The Party can serve as a guideline for conservators who may encounter similar challenges. 

2021 | Virtual | Volume 28