Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation in conjunction with Voices in Contemporary Art: Conservation Fellowships, 2018-present
In 2018, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (RRF), Voices in Contemporary Art (VoCA), and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) launched a groundbreaking partnership which provides a new educational model for conservation in contemporary art, while addressing the specific needs of an artist endowed foundation. The fellowships offer second year conservation students intensive exposure to the material demands of contemporary art, while addressing RRFs particular conservation concerns. This multi-year collaboration pairs a team of leading conservators from VoCA with conservation graduate fellows and professors of conservation and conservation science from WUDPAC who work closely with staff at RRF to demonstrate and realize the highest levels of research, scholarship, and art stewardship for RRF’s artwork holdings.
The partnership serves two of RRF’s current strategic ambitions: conducting a collections survey and launching a catalogue raisonné project. These goals are advanced through deep technical study of selected works and the development of a comprehensive collections manual to support the long-term care of Rauschenberg’s diverse and prolific output.
Furthermore, in its commitment to fostering the education of future art professionals, RRF has collaborative programs with graduate art history programs. As will be the case when the Winterthur fellows enter the professional world, the program with RRF and VoCA has offered the opportunity for dialogue between the conservation and art history students on topics of shared interest.
Year One (2018-2019)
In the inaugural year of the collaboration, RRF hosted two fellowships, which united the study of the materiality and process of Rauschenberg’s work with the conservation of the intangible aspects of his art as well as the long-term care of his pieces. Jennifer Myers, WUDPAC fellow, completed a material study of Rauschenberg’s paintings c. 1951-53, with particular focus on the Night Blooming (1951) series. She also studied the long-term stability of materials commonly used in their storage. Natalya Swanson, WUDPAC fellow, focused on the use of metal in Rauschenberg's painting and sculpture. She carried out technical examinations of pieces in both the Borealis (1988–92) and Cooperhead (1985/1989) series. Methods for documenting change in shiny, reflective metals surfaces was an additional focus of her research.
In collaboration with the WUDPAC fellows and VoCA, RRF hosted two study days. One was dedicated to best practices for storage and shipment of Rauschenberg’s sculpture series, Gluts (1986–89/1991–94). The other was a two-day meeting devoted to Rauschenberg’s Night Bloomings and black paintings (1951–53) attended by art historians, museum curators, conservators, and artists who have conserved, studied, written on, or are tasked with the care of these artworks.
Both fellowships were marked by a considerable set of reports on the following:
Painting series, including Night Bloomings, White Paintings (1951), and black paintings and a study of reflective surfaces
Two-dimensional series on metal (so-called metal paintings) and metal sculpture, including: Borealis, Copperhead, Glut, Night Shade (1991), and Phantom (1991)
Evaluation of the artist’s silkscreens used for making metal paintings
Storage materials report
Year Two (2019-2020)
The second year of the fellowship focused on Rauschenberg’s textile works, and specifically his Hoarfrost (1974–76) series. Maddie Cooper, WUDPAC fellow, has used the series to develop her expertise in design and execution of condition surveys, scientific analysis of storage materials, environmental analysis of display areas, and emergency response training for gallery spaces. The combination of the outcomes of this work will guide the long-term care of this series, and others, in private and public collections.
Unless otherwise indicated, team members participated throughout the entire collaboration.
Jennifer Myers, WUDPAC Fellow (Year One)
Natalya Swanson, WUDPAC Fellow (Year One)
Maddie Cooper, WUDPAC Fellow (Year Two)
Dr. Joelle Wickens, Assistant Professor of Preventive Conservation and WUDPAC Associate Director, University of Delaware
Debbie Hess Norris, Chair, Department of Art Conservation, University of Delaware
Dr. Rosie Grayburn, Winterthur Associate Scientist & Head of SRAL, and Affiliated Associate Professor, University of Delaware
William Donnelly, Winterthur Associate Preventive Conservator, and Affiliated Assistant Professor, University of Delaware
Laura Mina, Winterthur Associate Conservator of Textiles & Head of Textile Lab and Affiliated Assistant Professor, University of Delaware (Year Two)
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation:
Julia Blaut, Director of Curatorial Affairs
Thomas Roach, Head of Art Services
Francine Snyder, Director of Archives
Brittany Richmond, Research Assistant (Year One)
Kristen Clevenson, Curatorial Assistant (Year Two)
Jill Sterrett, VoCA Board President, Interim Director, Smart Museum, University of Chicago
Michelle Barger, Head of Conservation, SFMOMA
Jennifer Hickey, Paintings Conservator, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Year One)
Lauren Shadford, VoCA Executive Director
Margaret Graham, VoCA Program & Communications Manager
WUDPAC fellow Jennifer Myers and conservator Christine Frohnert at the Glut study day, July 17–18, 2019.