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Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art (18-29 June 2018)

The Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art (SITSA) is an intensive two-week workshop for Ph.D. candidates in art history with diverse backgrounds and research interests; it is designed for emerging scholars and museum professionals who believe that their thinking will benefit from more experience with object-based and art-technical investigations. Participants will engage with conservators, conservation scientists, curators, art historians, artists, and other makers in the interdisciplinary, collaborative environment of the Harvard Art Museums and the neighboring Department of History of Art and Architecture and other academic and cultural venues in the Greater Boston area. Under the direction of Francesca Bewer, research curator for conservation and technical studies programs at the Harvard Art Museums, SITSA will unite expert faculty to engage a cohort of 15 students in close looking, art making, and the scientific investigation of objects from the museums’ collections.

SITSA aims to introduce participants to the interdisciplinary approach that is core to the technical study of art and to build relationships that increase collaboration, enrich research, and enhance scholarship across the field of art history. It is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which in part allows the museums to provide each participant with housing and a stipend of $1,400 to help cover roundtrip travel costs, food, and incidental expenses for the duration of the program.

2018 Course Topic: Replication -------------------------

The 2018 institute will be dedicated to the theme of replication, both as an artistic process and as an art-technical research methodology. How do we gain a more nuanced understanding of the possible range of relationships between different iterations of an object? How can hands-on experimentation with artists’ materials and techniques, as well as reverse engineering of an artwork, open up new avenues of inquiry? These are among the questions to be explored during this summer’s workshop.

Whether using matrices such as molds and photographic negatives or working free-hand, artists and craftspeople past and present create copies or multiples of their work, produce artworks that are themselves multiples, and incorporate reproduction(s) into original works. Artists have also traditionally honed their skills through copying others’ works and artistic practices. In some traditions, copying is seen as an act of devotion. In other instances, replication has been adopted for greater dissemination or to serve remunerative ends. Archaeologists and art conservators attempt to replicate objects that they study to better understand artists’ working processes, the evolution of technologies, and how particular works were made and change over time. Increasingly, such hands-on methodology is being explored by art historians as well. Through the theme of replication, SITSA will consider authenticity, originality, reproducibility, multiples, copies, and other related topics.

Guided by experts, participants will explore the tools used routinely in conservation to gather evidence of manufacture, alteration, and restoration, and will carry out in-depth examination and documentation of select objects from the museums’ collections. Bronze casting, printmaking, and analog photographic printing are among the hands-on processes that will be attempted, in combination with close looking at works and conversations with artists. Students will engage in peer-to-peer teaching, discuss technical art history writing, and help formulate questions throughout the workshop. Together, the cohort will reflect on how the methodologies investigated during the workshop might inform participants’ scholarly interests.


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