Conservation of Contemporary Art and Ethnographic Materials: Relationships, Similarities and Differences

Research Project Description
A number of parallels have been drawn between contemporary art and ethnographic materials, including the ephemerality of the materials used and especially the processual, performative, and interactive context in which these materials are situated. Documentational research methods from anthropology such as ‘participant observation’ have also been consulted by conservation researchers seeking to gain a holistic understanding of the challenges posed by contemporary artworks. The goal of this PhD project is to push the interdisciplinary trend further by exploring the relationship between these two fields of conservation. An anthropological approach to object conservation stems from a particular understanding of the interplay between material and immaterial culture, the creation and communication of value and meaning, and ethnography as a mode of research capable of documenting these phenomena. Critically examining this approach to ethnographic collections documentation and care, and its similarities to and differences from contemporary art conservation, the researcher will seek to understand how new methodologies, theoretical paradigms, and forms of documentation from one area of practice can benefit the other.


Caitlin Spangler-Bickell

Caitlin Spangler-Bickell received her BA in Anthropology / Archaeology, Summa Cum Laude, from Saint Mary’s College of California in the United States and her MSc in Anthropology, Summa Cum Laude, from KU Leuven in Belgium. In addition to ethnographic and archaeological fieldwork, Caitlin has worked in various arts, culture, and science museum environments in the U.S., France, South Africa, and Belgium. She brings this experience in collections management and care, exhibition research and curation, education and public programmes, and heritage preservation initiatives to her NACCA project.

Home Institution
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, Netherlands
MUDEC – Museo delle Culture, Milan, Italy

Promotor: Prof. dr. Renée van de Vall, Maastricht University
Co-supervisor: Dr. Carolina Orsini, Museo delle Culture, Milan
Co-supervisor: MA Iolanda Ratti, Museo delle Culture, Milan

Project Partners
The Fowler Museum at UCLA
UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials

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