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The Explicit Material: On the Intersections of Cultures of Curation and Conservation

Art Association Annual Conference, February 3-6, 2016 
Washington, DC


In recent years, research and education initiatives have emerged that strive to combine perspectives of conservation with other humanities’ disciplines in the study of material culture. These are based on the belief that such cross-pollination can spawn new insights and contribute to our knowledge of both the object and the culture that produced it.

This session aims to explore the relationships between curatorial and conservation philosophies across a range of institutions, focusing on the ways in which these apparently divergent fields shape thinking about—and the practices of—collecting, exhibiting, and caring for objects. The “explicit material” approach (Latin “explicare:” “to unfold,” “unravel, “explain,” or to make visible) advances a way of thinking about the materiality of objects as they enter our collections and undergo a transformation from their previous context(s) to a museological one.

Our interest in conjoining curatorial expertise with conservation knowledge and the long tradition of combining hand and eye sensitivity to materials and technical processes derives from the conviction that insufficient attention has been paid to the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking about the materiality of objects. Conservation emerged as a field profoundly preoccupied with the nature of artworks. However, with the development of increasingly sophisticated tools of examination and analysis, the primacy of the object and the physical constitution appear to have gained ground in both academic und museological discourses. In fact, conservation has now become recognized as a field that has much to contribute to the humanities given the greater knowledge its findings afford us concerning how humans shape and use materials and objects.

College Art Annual Conference

This session invites an interdisciplinary dialogue between people already engaged in the museological discourse, and those willing to establish links between the fields of conservation and curation. Participants may include conservators, curators and academics including art historians and theorists, anthropologists, as well as makers and shapers of materials. We regard curation as a set of philosophies and practices engaged with collecting, contextualising and displaying objects. Conservation, in turn, is understood here as a field engaged in revealing and documenting evidence of the life of an object and ensuring its continuation on both physical and conceptual levels.

We welcome proposals on topics such as display, continuation, and archiving of artworks, and especially presentations concerned with aspects related to collecting, exhibiting and preserving of recent art and artefacts, “digital objects,” and performance.

Abstract submission

Please, send an abstract (1-2 pages, double spaced), a letter of interest, a CAA submission form and current CV by May 8 to organizers: Hanna B. Hölling, and Francesca Bewer
CAA individual membership is required of all participants.

For general guidelines for speakers, see:


Hanna B. Hölling:

Francesca Bewer:

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