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Indianapolis Museum of Art To Establish Conservation Science Laboratory

INDIANAPOLIS.- The Indianapolis Museum of Art has announced plans to establish a state-of-the-art conservation science laboratory to complement its existing expertise in the care and treatment of the works of art in its collection. Through the addition of this laboratory, the IMA aims to create an internationally recognized conservation center, which will enhance the IMA’s capability to conduct art historical research through science technologies. The laboratory also will augment the IMA’s potential as a resource for training and professional development, and it will help the IMA to foster partnerships with universities and corporations involved in central Indiana’s growing role as a hub of the life sciences industry. In recognition of these efforts, Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded a $2,613,450 grant to the Indianapolis Museum of Art toward the creation of the laboratory.

The IMA’s newly expanded conservation resources will support research and publication by museum conservators, scientists and curators to continue to build the IMA’s reputation as an industry leader through contributions to the fields of conservation, collections care and art history. Once equipped and fully staffed, the lab will join an esteemed group of labs at four other leading art institutions in the United States: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Conservation Institute. The IMA will appoint a Scientific Advisory Committee including leaders from Indiana’s growing life sciences industry. This committee will act as a resource for fostering collaboration and community involvement.

“We are grateful to Lilly Endowment for its support of this endeavor, which is a fitting way to leave a lasting legacy as a part of the IMA’s 125th Anniversary. This center will allow for research activities in support of the IMA’s permanent collection of some 54,000 objects, as well as the opportunity to pursue and build upon opportunities for collaborative research with cultural, academic and industrial partners,” said Dr. Maxwell L. Anderson, the Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the IMA.

The variety of objects and materials in the IMA’s collections requires a comprehensive conservation approach. Recent acquisitions composed of modern synthetic materials, fueled by a new Design Arts Department, an ongoing focus on contemporary art commissions and active collecting of 1960s to 1990s couture garments by the Textile and Fashion Arts Department are prime examples of acquisition trends expanding the range of materials entering the collection. Research on these emerging materials will allow the IMA to position itself as a leader in this area of conservation. The IMA’s significant collection of African art provides many opportunities to explore the ethnobotanical origins of resins, dyes and other natural products used in their making, thereby making possible a significant contribution to a little-studied aspect of African art.

The IMA’s extensive Asian ceramics collection allows for the in-depth study of historical glaze and ceramic technology. Additionally, IMA conservation scientists will likely pursue the identification of ephemeral inks and paints employed by many artists, the binding media of experimental contemporary prints, and degradation mechanisms of modern art glass.

A thorough understanding of materials used in these artworks, how these component materials degrade, and methods for preventing this degradation is essential for continued research in the field of museum conservation. Likewise, traditional paintings, sculpture, works on paper and decorative arts provide many instances where interpretation, conservation and collections care can be better informed through the availability of in-house scientific research and analysis. The IMA will assume a leading role nationally in understanding and developing protocols for mitigating degradation processes in outdoor environments with ongoing, temporary installations in 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which opens to the public in September 2009.

“Programs that build on the intellectual capital of our community and its institutions are attractive to us,” said Lilly Endowment president, N. Clay Robbins. “The establishment of this conservation laboratory should more firmly gel the IMA’s international reputation as a leading museum that approaches its mission and the collections in its care with creativity and a true sense of stewardship. Such a reputation can only bolster Indianapolis’ image as a culturally vibrant community.”

Pending additional funding, the IMA plans to conduct an international search starting in January 2009 for a senior conservation scientist. Once the scientist is in place, a comprehensive plan for outfitting the center with instrumentation funded through the Lilly Endowment grant will commence. Longer-term goals include hiring a second scientist and implementing a fellowship program.

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