Why the DMA’s New Conservation Program May Be More Important to the Museum Than Free Admission

In his young tenure as the director of the Dallas Museum of Art, Max Anderson has kick-started a number of initiatives that might be used to characterize his style and priorities. There was, of course, the new free general admission policy, but also the high profile bid for the Da Vinci, the Global Consortium of Cultural Districts, and remember that partnership with Turkey?

Here’s one I’m particularly fond of: taking over half of the former 1717 restaurant on the second floor of the museum and turning it into a painting conservation studio. Sure, there’s the symbolic act — the trading of food for art — but also the practical improvement. If you want to know how important a good conservation department is to the overall quality of a museum, just look west to the Kimbell, whose renowned conservation division helps that museum score things like the entire collection (more or less) of the Art Institute of Chicago. In other words, a strong conservation department will allow the DMA to leverage its technical know how and ability to service works on loan, and not just borrow them for exhibition, making the museum a more attractive exhibition partner and grounding an important element of museum scholarship (scientific conservation) in Dallas. In addition, as Anderson told FrontRow back in February, the director hopes to leverage the DMA’s new focus on conservation through partnerships with local universities:

“[Deputy Director] Rob [Stein] is helping spearhead this charge of building a consortium of museums around a scientific initiative that will be based in the university systems, both UTD and UNT, and perhaps SMU, and really develop the first truly consortial scientific enterprise-level research space for us. There is only one full time paintings conservator in the area [The Kimbell’s Claire Barry]. But that is not what we are talking about. We also want to add people in lab coats who are chemists and who have doctorates in chemistry and applied chemistry and analytical chemistry, and they’re working with grad students who never thought of conservation science as a career path. But that’s the path for a university connection.”

The renovations of the restaurant have been going on for a few months, as has some early conservation work. The studio will open in November 2013, and it will coincide with the fruits of its initial labor, an installation of Daniel Buren’s Sanction of the Museum, 1973. That new acquisition that has been spruced up the DMA after three decades in storage.

Here’s a full release:

Dallas Museum of Art to Open Paintings Conservation Studio in November 2013

Studio Launch Accompanied by Installation of Newly Conserved Daniel Buren Work Sanction of the Museum, Recently Acquired by DMA

DMA to Expand Conservation Program with New Staff Appointment, Regional University Partnerships

Dallas, TX—August 12, 2013—The Dallas Museum of Art will open its new Paintings Conservation Studio in November 2013, as part of the Museum’s initiative to establish a more comprehensive in-house conservation program. The launch of the Studio coincides with the installation of Daniel Buren’s Sanction of the Museum, 1973, a large-scale installation that was recently acquired and conserved by the DMA following nearly three decades in storage.

As part of its expanding conservation program, the DMA is also collaborating with the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of North Texas in Denton on three long-term research projects that focus on new analytical techniques and technologies for the study of artists’ materials. The conservation program at the DMA is led by Chief Conservator Mark Leonard and will be supported by the newly appointed Associate Conservator of Objects, Fran Baas.

The Paintings Conservation Studio features state-of-the-art technology—including a digital x-ray system—and will serve as a center for study and treatment of works of art as well as research into cutting-edge conservation methodologies. The Studio is adjoined by an exhibition gallery, which will highlight the works of art on view with a conservation perspective. Enclosed by a glass wall, the Studio’s design will allow visitors to the Conservation Gallery to observe daily activity beginning on November 1, 2013, providing audiences with a singular behind-the-scenes experience. An adjacent outdoor Sculpture Terrace will exhibit works from the DMA’s collection, and also provide visual access to the new Studio.

“The launch of these new conservation initiatives supports the DMA’s commitment to responsible stewardship of our collection, and the advancement of conservation research and practices in the region and across the museum field,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, the Museum’s Eugene McDermott Director. “We look forward to strengthening the DMA’s culture of conservation with the opening of this new facility and integrating conservation into the fabric of the Museum experience for the benefit and enjoyment of our community.”

In conjunction with the launch of its conservation studio, the DMA has also announced the acquisition of Sanction of the Museum, 1973, a major work by the French artist Daniel Buren that is among the most significant objects to be conserved at the Museum. An environmental installation consisting of six massive canvas sheets suspended in space, Sanction of the Museum underwent a substantial conservation process upon entering the Museum’s collection last year, including treatments to all six panels. The newly conserved work will be installed on the Museum’s Concourse, above the entrance to the Sculpture Garden and the Hoffman Galleries, on August 12, prior to a formal dedication timed to the inauguration of the Paintings Conservation Studio on November 18.

Concurrent with the growth of its in-house conservation capabilities, the DMA is also establishing a network of regional conservation partnerships in conjunction with museums in North Texas that engage local universities to collaborate on conservation research and the study of individual works. The DMA and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art are currently working with the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of North Texas in Denton on conservation projects. Examples range from the study of ultramarine pigment discoloration and the pigment and medium analysis of a work by Paul Gauguin from the Museum’s collection with UT Dallas, to the development of atomic sampling techniques for silverplated objects with UNT. The anticipated growth of this regional network will expand the impact of the DMA’s conservation activities and establish productive new relationships across the conservation field.

“By building external research partnerships to complement the renewed investments in our own conservation activities, the DMA is ensuring that the positive outcomes of our conservation activity will extend well beyond our own collection,” said Mark Leonard, who recently completed the first year of his tenure as the Museum’s inaugural chief conservator. “The continuing growth of the DMA’s conservation program will help to ensure that masterworks from across time periods and around the world are preserved for future generations.”

To support the DMA’s growing focus on conservation, the DMA has appointed Fran Baas to join the Museum as associate conservator. With her expertise in the field of objects and textile conservation, she will work closely with Leonard and the Museum’s senior staff to integrate the activities of the conservation program across every area of the collection.

Construction and equipping of the new Paintings Conservation Studio was catalyzed by an anonymous lead gift. Additional support was provided by the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, the Graham Williford Foundation for American Art, a private donation from Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth of Austin, Texas, and another anonymous gift.

Images (left to right): Samuel Anderson Architects (SAA), Conservation Studio, Computer-generated Conceptual View; Daniel Buren, 1973, six fabric squares (acrylic, cotton cloth, and hanging bars), Dallas Museum of Art, DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund.

About the Dallas Museum of Art

Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 22,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, the Museum welcomes more than half a million visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. In January 2013, the DMA returned to a free general admission policy, and launched DMA Friends, the first free museum membership program in the country.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of Museum Partners and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.



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