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What We’re Reading: “The Custodians”

Today’s “What We’re Reading” post comes to you from Ingrid Neuman, Tufts professor of the course Collections Care and Preservation and Conservator at the RISD Museum

“The Custodians: How the Whitney is transforming the art of museum conservation”, The New Yorker, January 11, 2016

This article by Ben Lerner, a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, discusses the history of art conservation, and juxtaposes traditional techniques with the newest challenges facing conservators of contemporary art. In specific, he chronicles efforts at the Whitney Museum to evaluate unstable contemporary art works and determine the justification for replacement parts or replication –  the action of which has direct implications for the future maintenance, classification and description of the work thereafter.

The critical question which reverberates through the entire article is: at what point does a work of art become no longer the “original” due to replacement or re-fabrication of  parts?

This article clearly presents the extraordinary challenges conservators of contemporary art must navigate which sometimes run counter to the traditional ways conservators operate within the museum context.  The topics of reversibility, the original state, prototypes and future technological capabilities are all very timely and important topics with which students within the field of Museum Studies, and particularly those interested in Collections Care, should become familiar.   The care of contemporary art is still very much an emerging field and will continue to pose very important challenges and deep philosophical conversations within the field, and with living artists, as we work together to preserve contemporary art now and into the future.


  1. Cindy Theiss

    We enjoyed your article. Thanks for sharing it!

    All the best,
    Cindy and Paul

  2. Coco

    Thank you for your sharing!

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