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MoMA

CONSERVATION

Protecting and Preserving the Collection

The Department of Conservation is responsible for the preservation of The Museum of Modern Art's collection. The department was established in 1958 in response to a fire at the Museum and was initially devoted to painting conservation. Since then, the department has grown to include staff and facilities dedicated to preserving works on paper, sculpture and objects, photography, and time-based media. The department also houses a scientific research section devoted to both study of the collection and development of new materials for conservation. Films are stored and conserved at the Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center.

The Conservation department also advises on environmental controls and needs, special exhibitions, and travel, packing, and installation requirements. These activities form an overall preventative program, which seeks to maintain the collection for future generations. Conservators and scientists in the department are actively involved in scholarly research related to exhibitions and collections at the Museum.

More about Conservation from the MoMA Inside/Out Blog


Selected Projects

Highlights of some of the work being done by MoMA's conservation team.


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Nam June Paik Conservation

Managing Change Over Time
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Floor Cake

The Oldenburg masterpiece gets a refrosting
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Picasso Guitars

Examining an icon
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In conjunction with the exhibition Picasso Guitars: 1912–1914, major conservation research was undertaken about the guitars in paper and steel.

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View Related videos about conservation

Terms and Techniques

An extensive list of conservation terms can be found on the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website CAMEO (Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online).


Term_emulsion

Emulsion

An emulsion is a combination of two or more liquids that do not blend easily on their own, such as oil and water. A common example of an emulsion is a vinaigrette salad dressing, in which you might use egg yolk to keep the vinegar and olive oil from separating. Similarly, painters can use egg yolk to emulsify oil paint and water.
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Term_enamel

Enamel

Enamel paints are household and automobile paints that are formulated to be very fluid. They are typically opaque and rich in pigment, since they are designed to cover a surface in a single coat of paint. Enamels can use an array of different binders that include alkyd (a modified linseed oil), acrylic, latex, and oil. Abstract Expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were among the first to regularly use enamel paints in making works of art.
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Term_stain

Stain

A stain is a thinned paint made with a considerable amount of solvent. Stains are absorbed into the canvas, rather than remaining on its surface.
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Term_palette

Palette Knife

A palette knife is a type of spatula typically used to mix paint on the palette. It can also be used to apply paint directly on the canvas and to remove it from the canvas.
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Term_paint

Paint

Paint is most often a combination of pigment, binder, and solvent. Pigment is the colored portion of the paint. It is often a finely ground material that is either found in nature or artificially produced. Binder holds the individual grains of pigment together. In oil paint, the most common binder is linseed oil, which typically dries to the touch in about one week. The binder in most acrylic paint is an acrylic resin; the binder in watercolor paint is a natural resin called gum arabic. Solvent is a liquid that thins the paint. The most common solvent in oil painting is turpentine. Water is the solvent for acrylic emulsion and watercolor paints.
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Term_turpburn

Turpentine Burn

A turpentine burn is made by soaking a rag in solvent and scrubbing the canvas directly. This technique removes paint and leaves a stain on the canvas.
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Term_tint

Tint, Shade, and Tone

In painting, a tint is a color plus white, a shade is a color plus black, and a tone is a color plus gray.
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Term_viscosity

Viscosity

Viscosity is the thickness of a liquid. Low-viscosity liquids are very fluid (such as water) while high-viscosity liquids are quite thick (such as molasses). The viscosity of oil paints is usually reduced by adding binder (such as linseed oil) and/or solvent (such as turpentine). At a lower viscosity, paint can be brushed onto the canvas more freely and quickly.
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Term_fresco

Fresco

The Layers of Fresco
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Also available in Spanish.

Term_giornata

Giornata

Case Study - Agrarian Leader Zapata, 1931
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Also available in Spanish.

Conservation Areas

The conservation of MoMA's collection is done by multiple departments which often collaborate on mixed-media projects. Find out more about each of these expertise areas.


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Media

The conservation of technology-based works like video-, audio-, and computer-based art are the responsibility of the media conservators at MoMA, the newest conservation section at the Museum.
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Painting

Painting conservators work mostly on paintings in the collection, mostly from the Department of Painting and Sculpture, which range from traditional oil painting on canvas to experimental paint media used by contemporary artists.
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Tour_paper

Paper

Paper conservators care for collections in the Museum that are principally paper such as drawings, prints, books, and posters, as well as some ephemera in curatorial collections.
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Photography

Photography conservation is responsible for the preservation and conservation of photo-based works in the collection of the Department of Photography as well as all the other curatorial departments that have photos in their collections.
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Science

Scientific research at MoMA is dedicated to analysis and research related to the Museum's collections. This includes identifying materials that artists use in creating their work, conducting research to better understand and store the collection, and to develop new materials for conserving works.
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Sculpture

Sculpture conservation is responsible for a very wide range of objects in the collection, from bronze sculpture to plastic design objects to kinetic sculpture and beyond.
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