Research

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Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Cultural Heritage Science
Ph.D. Cornell University
M.S. Cornell University
B.A. Franklin & Marshall College

My research program is centered on understanding the materials chemistry of cultural heritage and how this chemistry affects an object’s visual and functional properties over time. Our perception of antiquities, works of decorative art, the built environment, and sacred objects depends on the chemical and physical structures of their surfaces. These surfaces evolve over time, in ways that can make some objects more desirable, but many more less so, to the point that their original functions are obscured. My recent work in this area has included studies on the alteration of cadmium and arsenic pigments in paintings and painted furniture, including Edvard Munch’s c. 1910 version of The Scream.

The concept of an acceptable patina or even an acceptable intervention has evolved dramatically over centuries, and meaningful study of culturally significant objects can best occur with an understanding of this history. Knowledge of the degradation and intervention histories of cultural heritage objects allows us to “reverse engineer” these objects revealing how they were made, how they were understood and treated by preceding generations, and how we should approach their future care. Specific areas of my research program include central European porcelain, vert antique furniture finishes, Pablo Picasso’s canvas re-use in his Blue Period, and the patinas of copper alloys from antiquity to 19th century architectural ornament.

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Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Cultures of Conservation
Ph.D. UC San Diego
M.A. UC San Diego
B.A. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Alicia Boswell is an anthropological archaeologist who believes that interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration is key for advancing the Human Sciences. One of her long-term research goal is to integrate heritage conservation more directly into social science research. An archaeologist by training, her research examines the dynamics of complex societies. She is especially interested in interactions between regional polities and empires of the PreColumbian Americas. She relies on the material record and landscape to understand political and economic relationships, social identity, and cultural practices of the past. Through her fieldwork in Peru she has witnessed the destruction that globalization and the modern economy has had on the cultural heritage of the country. These experiences has led her to work with rural communities in Peru to protect endangered archaeological sites for nearly a decade through MOCHE, Inc. At Bard Graduate Center she will be working on a joint project with the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the “Crucibles of Innovation Project,” an endeavor to expand the lens of South American metallurgical studies and link The Met’s collection to a larger dialogue on metalworking technology and relationships throughout the Americas.

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Former Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Cultures of Conservation
M.A. NYU Institute of Fine Arts
B.A. Williams College

Jessica Walthew is an objects conservator now at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. She has worked in conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Penn Museum. Her research interests include theory and practice in archaeological and ethnographic conservation, best practices in documentation, and technical research in art history and archaeology. At Bard Graduate Center she was a 2016-2017 Andrew W. Mellon Cultures of Conservation Fellow and worked on a joint project with the American Museum of Natural History, focusing on their Northwest Coast collection. She co-taught Damage, Decay, and Conservation with Ivan Gaskell in Fall 2016. In Fall 2017 she will co-teach "In Focus: Native Arts of the Northwest Coast—Ethnography, Museums, and Conservation" with Aaron Glass.

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Former Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Cultures of Conservation
Ph.D. George Mason University (expected)
B.S. Yakut State University

Vera A. Solovyeva’s research focuses on how indigenous northern peoples preserve and develop their cultures and traditions in a contemporary world that is rapidly changing under the pressure of factors such as globalization and climate change. For example, climate change affects one of the most important components of traditional knowledge - the traditional economic calendar with which hunters and fishermen determine when and where they can start hunting, fishing, and collecting food and medicinal plants. How do northern people respond to this impact? What are the cultural values and factors that could help them in adapting to these changing conditions?

Another aspect of Solovyeva’s interests is an engagement in the process of recovering lost knowledge, traditions, and rituals by indigenous people through the study of museum collections, such as the Siberian collections that were collected during the Jesup North Pacific Expedition and are now kept in the American Museum of Natural History. Thus, traditional craftsmen from the Sakha Republic (Russian Federation) came to America in 2012 and 2014 to study the techniques of making different historical artifacts stored in the AMNH. In addition, Native Americans from the Pomo and Kashaya tribes (USA) went to Saint Petersburg (Russia) in 2014 to study their traditional baskets in the Peter the Great Museum Kunstkamera. Through this work, Indigenous peoples are not only revitalizing their knowledge, but also trying to restore the links between current and future generations and their ancestors that actually made these artifacts. These endeavors are of major importance for their self-identity and continuity, as they consider themselves a nation in the making.

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Former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Cultures of Conservation
Ph.D. University of Chicago
M.A. National Central University, Taiwan
B.A. National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan

Stephanie Su’s long-term research goal is to reconstruct a more interconnected, more globalized history of East Asian art by exploring the transmission of ideas, objects, styles and motifs across East Asia and beyond. Her dissertation focuses on the transcultural relationship between China and Japan in the early 20th century through the study of history painting on Chinese subjects in the mode of French academic art. She argues that China was not simply a passive subject to be appropriated by Japan. Instead, ideas, concepts and images flew multi-directionally between China and Japan even when their power relationship was imbalanced. At the Bard Graduate Center, she will be working on a joint project with the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the use of synthetic dyes in late nineteenth century Japanese woodblock prints and textiles. Bringing together an interdisciplinary approach to art, science and history, this project seeks to renew our understandings of changing artistic expressions and consumer tastes by examining the material substance and cultural meanings of colors along with the ever-expanding global trade network.

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Former Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor, Cultures of Conservation
Ph.D. Institute of Art History and Cultural Studies, University of Amsterdam
M.A. Academy of Fine Arts Warsaw

What specific kinds of change does a multimedia artwork undergo, and how does it maintain its identity through those changes? Due to their cycles of rematerialisations, obsolescence, issues of de- and re-activation and dependence on the archive, these works are particularly affected by change. My research explores post 1960s artworks involving multimedia installations, film, performance, event, but also ephemera, foodstuff and games. I am interested in their material lives, their manufacture and media, creative processes, distribution, manipulation, 'afterlives' and musealization. I explore the reciprocal relation between materials and meanings and observe how the materiality of artworks is temporal and relational, linked with time and people, and just as well with their exhibition, curation and conservation cultures. My thinking, teaching, and research have been inspired by a long-term engagement with conservation of contemporary art and media in large museum institutions and private collections. The recent research projects are a study of the aspects of time, identity and changeability in artworks by the Korean artist Nam June Paik (Re:Paik), a project engaging with the Intermedia legacy of Fluxus movement in Europe and America (Fluxus Matters) and the BGC Andrew W. Mellon Cultures of Conservation project.

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Former Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Cultures of Conservation
Ph.D. Folklore, Indiana University
M.A. Indiana University
B.A. Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania

As a folklorist and ethnologist, I draw upon the arts, humanities, and social sciences to study creative expression in everyday life. Within material culture studies, my work focuses on the nature and significance of vernacular architecture. I examine how the construction, interpretation, and use of ordinary structures and landscapes express their creators' histories, social practices, cultural customs and beliefs. My dissertation is an ethnographic study of the temporary ritual dwellings built for the annual Jewish festival of Sukkot. Based in a multi-ethnic, working-class neighborhood of South Tel Aviv, Israel, I examined the intersection of vernacular religious and architectural practices in a dense urban environment being challenged by socio-economic changes. Currently, I am conducting a collaborative, ethnographic project with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum to document the conservation process of the Museum's 19th century tenement building—a study that brings together historic preservation, immigrant social history, and museum anthropology.