The Collections Care Social Group

Old Beauty by Loretta Pettway

Today I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Collections Care Social Group to kick off my internship with art conservator, Nina Olsson. What I love about the group is that it's basically just art club for fancy, professional grown-ups. They get together every other month to see collections of art around Portland, and to discuss new and exciting things going on in their field.

Amongst all of the important art people–curators, arts council members, fellow conservators, and even Tammy Jo (a professor in the art department at my school)–I felt very small and very awkward. It took me back to when I was little and my mom let me come to knitting club with her and all of her grown-up friends. Only this time, all of the grown-up friends have the power to make or break my career and the gossip is about the failed Oregon College of Arts and Craft/Portland State merger and cool conservation projects, not so much about their kids.

This month, the focus was on art that PSU just installed in some of their new buildings, so much of the conversation was spent on inside jokes about the challenges of art installation ("Nothing a lift can't fix!") and concerns over conservation of works in public spaces.

I spent most of the tour eavesdropping on my mentor and the other conservators. I was astounded by their attention to detail. They compared mental notes on the direction of windows that could be letting in damaging UV rays, considered the massive flow of air in the Viking Pavilion (which, as a sports arena, has to keep its doors open for long periods of time to let people in), and imagined what effect two teams of sweaty basketball players could have on the exposed art.

Below are pictures of John Grade's Treeline and the building where it is now hung. This piece and several others in the building were commissioned using Percent for Art funds. Percent for Art requires that one percent of construction costs for new or renovated buildings be used to acquire new art. Our PSU hosts explained that sometimes, this is the only funding they have for the purchase or maintenance of works. They do their best to keep the artwork as pristine as possible, but sometimes they just don't have the funding to get a piece regularly professionally dusted.

The big takeaway I got from this tour was that the opportunity that Percent for Art has given institutions like PSU has been really valuable to the community, but putting art in places that aren't made just for art has its drawbacks. In order to make art accessible, you have to sacrifice the complete and total safety of the work. PSU can try their best to mitigate the damage, but no public space is going to have museum-quality protection. Though conservators may cringe at the thought of a piece of art deteriorating, even they will admit that art should be seen and sometimes, the seeing must be done in messy, human spaces.

Image #1 Old Beauty by Loretta Pettway

Image #2 One of two large textile pieces by Nick Cave that PSU purchased for the Viking Pavilion - I'm so sorry I didn't write down the actual title of the piece and can't find it anywhere online, but PSU said that they are launching a webpage about their art collection soon, so hopefully it will be featured on there.

Image #3 Treeline by John Grade


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