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Wednesday, May 31 • 2:05pm - 2:30pm
(Treatment: Going Big) Go Big or Go Home: Broader Considerations in the Treatment of Oversize Objects at the Art Institute of Chicago

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Whether in the private sector or within institutions, conservators seem to be under increasingly urgent and constant pressure. Exhibition schedules and treatment deadlines are drawing ever tighter with ever-fewer resources—both material and personnel—allocated to satisfy these demands. At times, certainly, realizing even a minimum level of treatment feels like an impossibility. Over the past several years, various initiatives at the Art Institute of Chicago have necessitated major re-treatments of several oversize works of art: a pair of 17th-century Islamic tile spandrels; a Renaissance terracotta altarpiece; and a Classical Greek marble funerary monument. The treatments themselves were of considerable interest, requiring investigation into new materials and techniques; exploiting trusted materials from the conservator's arsenal but utilizing them in novel ways; and demanding ample bench skills. These aspects of each treatment will be discussed. However, the more salient theme that the three campaigns will highlight is the degree to which the treatment design for each object went beyond the strictures mandated by the profession (i.e., retreatability, minimal intervention, etc.) and incorporated the broader exigencies of numerous staff members outside of conservation. For instance, a specific goal of each treatment was to ensure that installation be as straightforward and expedient as possible. A further goal was to reduce the object's footprint within available storage space in the event of its being taken off view. Not least, the treatment design incorporated sound shortcuts to accommodate the project deadlines as closely as possible. These and other goals will be enumerated in greater length to reinforce the notion that it behooves conservators to think beyond the bench and tailor treatment designs to dovetail neatly with the needs of clients or the institution as a whole. In the face of dwindling budgets and burgeoning administrative hurdles it makes increasing sense to function as collaborative partners with a full understanding of how conservation fits into the bigger picture. At the same time, the three objects serve as good case studies for discussion as to the extent of treatment and when it is critical to insist on wholesale re-treatment. The reservoir of goodwill that builds from a track record of problem solving, not just for the benefit of the objects in our care, but on behalf of the many other members of staff whose work may appear tangential but is nonetheless allied with our own, makes it easier to hold the line and push for those treatments which might not otherwise have full support or the luxury of undivided attention. 

avatar for Rachel C. Sabino-[PA]

Rachel C. Sabino-[PA]

Associate Conservator of Objects, Art Institute of Chicago
RACHEL C. SABINO has been Associate Conservator of Objects at the Art Institute of Chicago since 2011 where, in addition to treatment-related activities, she has been a co-author of the museum's online scholarly catalogue of Roman art. Rachel held previous positions at the National... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 2:05pm - 2:30pm CDT
Crystal Ballroom A Lobby Level, West Tower