| In The Lab

Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art

The Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art (SITSA) is an intensive two-week workshop for a select group of Ph.D. candidates in art history; it will bring together students from diverse backgrounds and research areas who feel their topics and careers will benefit from object-based and art technical research. It builds on the Summer Institute for Technical Art History that was developed and led by New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts for the past five years. Participants will be immersed in the interdisciplinary, collaborative environment of the Harvard Art Museums and the neighboring Department of History of Art and Architecture, as well as other academic and cultural partners 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—conservators, conservation scientists, curators, art historians, artists, and other makers—to engage a cohort of 15 students in close looking at works of art; hands-on art making; guided technical examination and analysis; critical readings; and discussions with experts. Students will be encouraged to build relationships within the group, in the hope that their exchanges will enrich their own research, foster future collaborations, and help spur wider integration of technical studies within the broader field of art history. Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program will 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.

2017 Course Topic: Translation

This year SITSA will focus on the multifaceted theme of translation. In art production, translation emerges in myriad ways: for example, in the transfer of a design from concept to sketch or model and onward to a finished work; or through trans-cultural and cross-media adaptation. Visual and verbal attempts to represent processes of making are themselves acts of translation, as are our individual attempts at making sense of those explanations. Similarly, the means by which art historians, curators, conservators, and scientists glean and interpret technical and material evidence from physical objects; how they communicate with each other about their questions and findings; and how they make decisions about treating and re-presenting or interpreting works all involve complex exercises of translation. In turn, these interpretations and processes must then be made accessible to diverse academic and public audiences in yet another act of translation. SITSA will explore these forms of translation, among others, encouraging participants to reflect on questions of accuracy, originality, reproducibility, and adaptation, as well as on how the museum setting itself serves as a locus of translation and interpretation. SITSA will provide a forum to develop critical skills in the interpretation of object-based, technical analyses. Participants will have the opportunity to translate an artwork of their choice into various media, interpret technical images and data, converse with a variety of experts, attempt to follow a historical recipe, and produce their own instructions and documentation of art making processes. They will also be expected to provide an overview of their research and to consider how the methodologies explored during the workshop might materially and theoretically inform their own scholarly interests.

Eligibility and Application Process

Students currently enrolled in or completing a doctoral program in the United States or Canada are eligible to apply. No background in science or conservation is required. A maximum of 15 participants will be admitted to the program. Applicants will be evaluated on the basis of their academic accomplishments to date and on their expressed interest in integrating technical studies in their scholarly pursuits. Applicants should submit a cover letter—addressed to Francesca G. Bewer, Research Curator for Conservation and Technical Studies Programs, Division of Academic and Public Programs, Harvard Art Museums—detailing what unique perspective they would bring to the program and briefly explaining how they might integrate technical studies in art into their research (maximum 1,200 words). The letter should be accompanied by an academic and professional CV, as well as a letter of support from the applicant’s advisor addressing the individual’s academic standing and interest in the topic.

The application deadline is March 20, 2017, with final notification provided on April 8, 2017. Please submit applications in electronic format to: am_dapp@harvard.edu

Archive

June 6-17, 2016
Course Topic: Manifestations of the Model

The 2016 Summer Institute in Technical Art History focused on forms of the model in art and architecture. We examined preparatory materials such as sketches, bozzetti, and architectural plans, as well as presentation models for sculpture and architecture, and looked for evidence of the model in the finished work of art.  Our study considered works that served as models for other media, like prints and lay figures; maps, globes, and three-dimensional botanical and medical replicas; so-called tomb models; the contemporary use of models in art making; and the afterlives of models as collection objects. This topic allowed us to explore questions of scale, material, and process through close examination of objects in New York City museums and conservation laboratories. 

Participants studied with distinguished conservators, art historians, scholars and artists, with a focus on materiality and process through close looking at art objects.   Hands-on studio sessions introduced historic and contemporary working practices. Participants discussed how these methodologies materially and theoretically inform their own diverse research interests.  This seminar provided a forum to develop critical skills in the interpretation of object-based analyses.

Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the seminar was held at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, and in New York City’s leading museums.

June 8-19, 2015
Course Topic: Material Movement: Global Artistic Interdependencies and Exchanges

“The twenty-first century will be defined by globalization.” (Muzaffar and Otero-Pailos, 2012)

The globalization of art has become a topic of widespread interest in the last decade, often focusing on traveling exhibitions, international biennials and the flourishing contemporary art market. But globalization is not only a concern of the electronic age; the impact of artworks received from, or sent to, distant countries can be traced back centuries. The 2015 Summer Institute in Technical Art History was devoted to the globalization of art, artists’ materials, and technologies for this wider time period, and examined relationships of exchange and reception from antiquity until the present. With this topic we explored themes related to artistic exchange, fragmentation and cross-fertilization, and consider the hybridized objects that often result from this contact. Three themes structure the course: global artists’ materials and processes of art-making, such as pigments, printmaking, textiles, and stone; art in transit, namely the impact of trade routes and means of transport on art and its materials; and the peripatetic artist. 

Participants studied with distinguished conservators, art historians, scholars and master craftspeople.  We considered specific artworks as case studies, and examined materiality and process through close looking and re-creation of techniques and processes. Participants ascertained how these methodologies materially and theoretically inform their own diverse research interests.  This seminar provided a forum to develop critical skills in the interpretation of object-based analyses.

Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the seminar was held at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, and in New York City’s leading museums.

June 9-20, 2014
Course Topic: The Artist’s Book: Materials and Processes

A good understanding of material aspects of works of art is becoming increasingly important to art historical studies. The Artist’s Book was a two-week, intensive seminar that examined how technical art history might simultaneously clarify and complicate established art historical narratives of this important art form. The program focused on works from the modern era, and considered a variety of different formats. These included: traditional letterpress printed books, deconstructed texts and book blocks, artists’ photo books, and other unique works. Bound volumes, as well as forms like scrolls, fold-outs, concertinas, loose leaves kept in boxes, and e-books were examined.  This topic allowed us to explore the intersections of book construction, photography, printmaking, and graphic design within the context of literature, both experimental and traditional.

Under the direction of Professors Constance Woo (Long Island University) and Michele Marincola (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University), participants studied with distinguished conservators, book artists, scholars and master craftspeople.  We considered specific artworks as case studies, examine materiality and process through close looking and recreation of techniques and processes, and create a book in the studio. Participants ascertained how these methodologies materially and theoretically inform their own diverse research interests.  This seminar provided a forum to develop critical skills in the interpretation of object-based analyses related to the scholarship of artist’s books.

Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the seminar was held at the Institute of Fine Art's Conservation Center, with selected sessions at area libraries, artist studios and in the conservation labs of New York City’s leading museums.

June 10-21, 2013
Course Topic: Theoretical Subjectivities and The Critical Eye


Can the technical analysis of works of art reconcile an object’s conflicting interpretative subjectivities? How might material analysis redefine the ontological status of an artwork? What does an object’s physical evolution over time reveal about the nature of material authenticity? How can diverse approaches to technical art history vocalize aspects of an artist’s intent, which may otherwise remain mute?

Technical methodologies and material analyses are becoming increasingly prevalent in the scholarship of Modern and Contemporary art. Theoretical Subjectivities was a two-week, intensive seminar that examined how technical art history might simultaneously clarify and complicate established Post-war art historical narratives. Under the direction of distinguished conservators, scholars and technical art historians, participants considered specific artworks as case studies, examined materiality and process, and received an introduction to imaging and analytical techniques. Participants ascertained how these methodologies materially and theoretically informed their own diverse research interests.  This seminar provided a forum to develop critical skills in the interpretation of object-based analyses related to the scholarship of Post-war art.

Artworks under consideration spanned multiple decades, including objects associated with Kinetic Art, Minimalism, Post-Minimalism and Conceptualism, as well as contemporary examples that defy genre. Specific case studies questioned whether kinetic artworks must be functional to have agency. How might issues of material authenticity and post studio fabrication challenge the ontology of an object? How might the degradation of an object’s materials disavow its status as a work of art? What does the shifting nature of the readymade tell us about issues of originality?

June 18 – 29, 2012
Course Topic: Replication and Its Processes

How do questions of materiality affect the way we see works of art? What impact does the physical reality of an object have on how we understand and interpret it? To what extent does the development of artists’ materials and material technology influence artistic innovation and choice? How can technical analysis help illuminate the process of creation, the relationships between artists and workshops, and the changes that occur to objects over time?

During the Summer Institute, participants were introduced to the materials and methods of art making, and learned to recognize and characterize the traces of process left on the work of art, as well as how materials typically change over time. Using Walter Benjamin’s distinction between manual and process reproduction, the course began with an overview of traditional techniques of copying both images and artifacts: replication as part of studio practice and the education of the artist, and artists’ copies as agents of dissemination. However, the bulk of the course was spent studying the processes of mechanical reproduction of works of art. Casting techniques, stamping and striking images, printmaking techniques, photographic processes and replication in contemporary art are subjects that were explored in a series of lectures, object-based discussions, and studio visits. Faculty was drawn from leading conservators and technical art historians, and much of class time was be spent in direct examination of works of art in area museums.