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Tuesday, May 30 • 10:50am - 11:15am
(Opening General Session) Preventive Conservation in the Renovation of the Harvard Art Museums: Before, During, and Ever After

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The Harvard Art Museums reopened in 2014 after a six-year renovation and closure. Conservation involvement in the planning of this building project influenced all art-related spaces, processes, and procedures. This talk reflects on the question: what is the role of conservation in a museum renovation project? The success of conservation initiatives relies on effective collaboration, predominantly with professionals outside our field. We must cultivate trusting relationships with museum colleagues to get approval, support, and funding. This talk will share three projects from the Harvard Art Museums' renovation that demonstrate preventive conservation practiced through communication and collaboration: a large scale materials testing program, the integration of light sensitive materials throughout new galleries, and a program of gallery art incident tracking and response. Each program demonstrates the importance and power of collaboration in preventive conservation. A materials testing program was devised for the design and construction of two consecutive major building projects, totaling 77,000 square feet of art spaces. Conservators, conservation scientists, and administrators played integral roles in the design and planning process. They devised a materials testing program, primarily using the Oddy test, to review all construction materials proposed first for an interim facility and then for the renovated the Harvard Art Museums. The program sought to minimize harmful off-gassing of construction materials by making the best choices of materials where possible, understanding that concessions would be necessary. Over eight years of testing, 900+ materials were evaluated for use. Lessons learned will be shared about this ongoing program. A new curatorial directive to integrate light sensitive materials throughout the museum's galleries (43,000 square feet) prompted the need for clear guidelines on exhibiting, lending, and teaching with light sensitive materials. While conservators initially perceived this charge as being in tension with the light-focused architectural design by Renzo Piano, they worked closely with architects and lighting engineers to understand the predicted effects of natural light in a building with 9500+ square feet of glass and to plan for optimal control of natural light with a system of 450+ operable and fixed shades. Conservators then developed and implemented a light monitoring program that measured light levels at 40 points throughout a full year to verify the predicted light effects, prescribe shade programming and focus on problematic areas. In response to concerns about visitors' frequent contact with art on view in the museum's intimate gallery spaces, a simple, collaborative program devised by Conservation, Collections Management, Security, and IT tracks and responds to gallery art incidents. With their standard duties, the museum's 46 security attendants record minor and major incidents on "Art Touch Cards.” The notes are compiled and the aggregate data is analyzed by a cross-departmental team, which identifies and diagnoses the objects suffering the most frequent incidents. The museum has made effective changes in response to the analyses, and the impact has been measurable. In addition to reduced incidents, the program has improved upkeep of non-art conditions in galleries, and, surprisingly, staff engagement.

avatar for Angela Chang, [PA]

Angela Chang, [PA]

Assistant Director and Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, Harvard Art Museums/Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Angela Chang is the Assistant Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies and Head of the Objects Lab at the Harvard Art Museums. She has special interests in preventive conservation, technical research, artist interviews, and project management. Her recent... Read More →

avatar for Penley Knipe

Penley Knipe

Conservator, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Penley Knipe is the Head of the paper lab at the Harvard Art Museums and the Philip and Lynn Straus Senior Conservator of Works on Paper. Penley has worked at the Harvard Art Museums as a conservator since 1999. She was the Chair of the Book and Paper Group and she is a Fellow of... Read More →
avatar for Kate Smith

Kate Smith

Conservator of Paintings, Straus Center/Harvard Art Museums
Kate Smith is Conservator of Paintings and head of the paintings lab at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums. Kate received her Masters in Conservation in 2001 from the Buffalo State College program. She went on to work as assistant conservator... Read More →

Tuesday May 30, 2017 10:50am - 11:15am
Regency Ballroom Ballroom Level, West Tower
  • Cost Free!
  • Audience All
  • Credit Renzo Piano designed atrium at the Harvard Art Museum. ©Paul Geffen CC BY-NC 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Attendees (532)