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Thursday, June 1 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Paintings) Conservators as Collaborators: working with artist Dan Colen

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In 2014, "Help,” an exhibition of work by Dan Colen at the Brant Foundation was installed. The exhibit included Colen's works in a wide range of media including glass, found objects, oil paint, flowers, chewing gum, Styrofoam, crack pipes and parakeets. The parakeets were part of an installation of a trash "nest” in a room adjacent to Colen's Gum paintings. Curtains made of strung crack pipes were installed to keep the birds within their designated gallery. By the time the exhibition closed -- and beckoned by the sweet scent of the gum -- the birds had managed to escape their gallery, parted the curtains and found a new happy place perched on and fluttering about the Gum paintings. The artist had no problem with this; the collector, on the other hand, did. This event was a reminder of what the conservator of modern and contemporary art faces today. As artists of this and the last century have explored and exploited materials, the definition of a "painting” has broadened. Butterfly wings, dust, urine, chewing gum, and a host of other materials pose new challenges to today's paintings conservator. The preservation of these materials requires conservators to be problem solvers and collaborators while staying grounded in the ethics of our profession. Since 2013, conservators at Modern Art Conservation have worked closely with artist Dan Colen. With the help of a large crew of assistants, Colen orchestrates the creation and production of multiple bodies of work. He uses both traditional and unorthodox materials such as chewing gum, tar, feathers, flowers and lipstick to express his artistic vision and push the boundaries of what constitutes an art material. In this quest, he, his assistants and gallery have realized the importance of collaborating with conservators. With Colen's rise in the art world have come challenges to balance his exploration of materials and the active market for his works with the responsibility that is upon those who sell, collect and exhibit his works. To accomplish this, the relationship between the artist and conservator has quickly grown. The conservator's role is as technical advisor and resource, devising creative solutions and providing materials information that can extend the life of some of the more unpredictable materials Colen employs while striving not to impede upon the artist's creative process. This paper will address several projects on which we have worked together and the conservator's role not only in restoring works that have already been made but also in providing technical advice in the creation of new works or when continuing a series. Reconsidering supports, media, and process has led to changes that aim to sustain the artist's intent. The paper will explore how the artist's working methods and his consideration of the alteration and preservation of his works have changed since working with a conservator as well as the role of the conservator in providing condition information and best practice requirements during or after the sale of Colen's work.

avatar for Suzanne Siano

Suzanne Siano

Paintings Conservator/Director, Modern Art Conservation
Suzanne Siano is the Chief Conservator and Director of Modern Art Conservation, a large private conservation practice located in Chelsea. Beginning as an apprentice in Florence, Italy, in 1989, Suzanne went on to earn a certificate in art conservation from the Institute of Fine Arts... Read More →

Thursday June 1, 2017 2:30pm - 3:00pm CDT
Regency C Ballroom Level, West Tower