The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $750,000 grant to Bard Graduate Center to continue its “Cultures of Conservation” curriculum, which the foundation initially funded in 2012 for a period of five years. The second phase of “Cultures of Conservation” will continue its mission to model the best ways of integrating the approaches and insights of objects conservation and materials science with those of academics in the human sciences (anthropology, archaeology, art history, history). A key part of the grant initiative involves the appointment to the Bard Graduate Center faculty of a visiting professor of science who will bring a different kind of knowledge of materials to the close work of conservation. To this end, Jennifer Mass, who holds a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Cornell University, has been appointed Andrew W. Mellon Professor to teach courses on conservation for non-scientists. Her research interests include the degradation mechanisms of artists’ pigments and developing nondestructive depth profiling methods for imaging buried paintings.

Another major component of the initiative is a collaboration among Bard Graduate Center, the Conservation Department of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik of the Humboldt University in Berlin. Teams led by Peter N. Miller (BGC), Robert van Langh (Rijksmuseum), and Wolfgang Schäffner (Humboldt), will delve into the question of “Conserving Active Matter” with the goal of creating intellectual resources with which twenty-first century conservators and art historians will be able to think about objects and the discourse of “material culture.” “Conserving Active Matter” aims to reshape conservation thinking and training by creating new expectations for the intellectual contributions of conservators and the kinds of discussions in which their presence will be required. In a world of active matter—the way in which organic materials are intrinsically active and therefore constantly change—the conservator’s scientific training is essential as is a philosophical understanding of the long history of the issues given new form by the challenges of modern materials. “Conserving Active Matter” will focus on the consequences of taking into account the highly mutable, dynamic, and active character of objects and images, which pose challenges not only for exhibiting but also for conservation, and even, for the museum itself. The three geographically dispersed teams will work in parallel through videoconferenced seminars and twice-annual workshops at which representatives of the groups, along with invited visitors, will present current research. The project will launch with a symposium on November 28, 2017.

“We are grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their continued support of this initiative, though perhaps even more for their encouragement, which has allowed us to think deeply and push into these unexplored territories of investigation,” said Peter N. Miller, dean of Bard Graduate Center. “Our partners in this, with their great human and material resources in Amsterdam and Berlin, are ideal interlocutors as we explore the shape and shaping of conservation as a human science in the twenty-first century. With this project we hope to deepen the dialogue and to create a new platform for thinking about the place of conservation among the broader sciences of the human past.”

“I founded Bard Graduate Center with the conviction that the aspirations and habits of civilization are revealed through objects, which are fundamental to the lives of all individuals,” said Susan Weber, Bard Graduate Center’s founder and director. “The Mellon Foundation’s continued support for this initiative augments our existing program of study by integrating conceptual and technical issues of conservation into the broader scholarly dialogue, allowing us to bridge the divide between theory and practice in the study of material culture.”

For more information about the Bard Graduate Center’s “Culture of Conservation,” visit cultures-of-conservation.wikis.bgc.bard.edu/.