The NDSR Art Cohort (2018-19) Visits NYC
by Jean Moylan and Rachel Ward
Last month, we — Jean Moylan and Rachel Ward — hosted the NDSR Art (2018-19) cohort in New York City for a 3-day site visit consisting of tours, presentations, and events. Our objective was to develop a holistic itinerary that reflected both our NDSR Art Projects (Rachel is focusing on the media art ecosystem and conservation, while Jean is exploring digital preservation systems for A/V media). As such, we developed the theme of the “life cycle” of time-based media art by physically and pedagogically tracing the path of the piece from its creation in the artist’s studio, to conservation, acquisition and, ultimately, to preservation and storage in the collecting institution. Here is a look at what we put together:
Day 1: Guggenheim Offices
Jean: On the first day of the visit, Rachel and I met the rest of our NDSR Art cohort at the Guggenheim offices for a tour of the archives and afternoon of staff-led presentations. We started in the reading room, where my project supervisor Tali Han – joined by Joey Cabrera and Jillian Suarez of the Library & Archives department – gave us an overview of the Guggenheim Museum’s history, tracing from its inception as the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in 1939 to the design and construction of its current, permanent building. Describing various items she’d pulled from the archives, Tali pointed out photographs of Peggy Guggenheim with her much-adored dogs and a shot of the Museum’s first librarians, Barbara Butler and Georgine Oeri. Some other highlights included a set of Ed Ruscha’s artist books and selections from Guggenheim founding director Hilla Rebay’s personal library, featuring zany titles such as, “The Power of Faith Healing: Psychic and the Divine” and, “The Voice of the Logos: The Way to Victorious Living.”
Jean: In the afternoon session, we heard a presentation on the Panza Collection Initiative (PCI) led by Susan Wamsley (Digital Asset Manager), Cristina Linclau (Manager of Exhibitions and Collections Information), Kristen Tivey (Project Archives Assistant), and Tali. The PCI team formed in 2010 when the Guggenheim received a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to preserve a collection of Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, and Conceptual artworks that the Museum had acquired from Italian collector Giuseppe Panza di Biuomo in the early 1990’s. With this context in mind, we viewed excerpts from the artist interview and advisory committee meeting videos that had been digitized as part of the project, and we learned about the range of other materials (in various formats) that are associated with the Panza Collection. During a hands-on workshop that followed the screening, the cohort and presenters worked together to think through some of the more challenging considerations that have emerged from figuring out how to cohesively represent information about these assets across the Museum’s three main asset management, digital repository and collections information tools (MediaBeacon, ArchivesSpace, and TMS). We used printouts as stand-ins for the collection’s different content categories and placed each example in what we agreed to be its appropriate location, choosing between combinations of TMS, the Museum’s DAM, and its archival repository. While we reached no definitive conclusions (of course), we appreciated the dynamic nature of this exercise and the novel spaces it generated for thoughtful discussions surrounding the integration of digital information systems, a topic I’ve grappled with in the context of my own project.
Day 2: The Whitney and METRO
Rachel: Following an immersive tour of the private Guggenheim Offices and Archives, we spent the following morning at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The panel, graciously organized by Farris Wahbeh (Director of Research Resources) (also my ARLIS/NA mentor), provided a unique behind-the-scenes opportunity — a comprehensive overview of their new Media Preservation Initiative (MPI), a Mellon grant-funded project to implement a holistic preservation framework for the time-based media art works in the Museum’s permanent collection. Small Data Industries, my NDSR host, was hired to consult at the ground-level of this project (detailed by Farris and Ben later that day at METRO). The Whitney presentation included Farris as well as the MPI team: David Neary (Project Manager), Savannah Campbell (Preservation Specialist, Video and Digital), Christopher Bernu (Project Manager), and Brian Block (Research Fellow, Collections Information and Data). They demonstrated the process of implementing this epic, multi-year project through smaller-phased initiatives that systematically liaise the Curatorial, Conservation, Library and Archive Departments. Following this exclusive, erudite opportunity, Farris led us through the Conservation and Media Labs to introduce us to Christine Frohnert (Media Conservator) and Richard Bloes (Senior Technician). They walked us through their media art conservation and preparation process as they acquired new pieces for their current exhibition, Programmed, a momentous journey through the history of media art — an extraordinary, multi-year feat (particularly for the media conservators!).
Jean: After visiting the Whitney, the cohort made their way over to the far West side of Manhattan to attend “Safeguarding and Activating Digital Video Information,” a panel I co-organized with the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). This being my first experience organizing a public-facing panel discussion, I was equal parts excited and terrified for it to begin, but in the end extremely grateful to have Ben Fino-Radin, Farris Wahbeh, Amye McCarther, and Dave Rice as participants. Even though I’d reviewed the presenter’s abstracts in advance, I was pleasantly surprised at how varied and dynamic the discussion turned out to be. Topics ranged from preservation micro-services at CUNY-TV to born-digital video at the New Museum. Ben and Farris provided yet another perspective in their presentation on the Whitney’s Media Preservation Initiative, in which they talked about the RFP process and the Whitney’s collaboration with Small Data Industries.
Day 3: Small Data Industries
Rachel: On the final day of the Enrichment Session, we traveled to Industry City in Brooklyn to fuse the new physical and digital spaces we learned about on the trip. We designed the day’s experience to trace Cory Arcangel’s work from his studio —> to conservation lab (Small Data Industries) —> to museum acquisition (Christine and Richard’s demonstration) —> to installation (the Whitney’s Programmed exhibition —> to its ultimate home in digital storage (the theme of the Guggenheim, Whitney MPI and METRO presentations). In Cory’s studio, his assistants gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of his current works-in-progress and his older pieces that continue to inspire and shape the historical trajectory of contemporary media art. They also shared the storage system, custom-built by Small Data Industries, that facilitates geographic redundancy and disaster recovery — with the useful byproduct of real-time, remote collaboration among the studio’s distributed team.
Visiting his studio granted us access to the “making” of the piece before we walked downstairs to the Small Data Industries lab. There, we introduced the other members of our team: our Operations Manager, Erin Barson (NDSR Art 2017-18), and Nick Kaplan (Winterthur/Delaware Program in Art Conservation) who is spending his third-year internship with us. Nick showed us Cory’s pieces that he is working on, from his early video-game work (currently at the Whitney) to ones that are being maintained and services for private collections. He also demonstrated some unique equipment, such as a UV drawer that erases data and the custom archival housing the team is designing for Cory’s works. We wrapped up the day in Camp David by discussing the manifestations and intersections of everything we had learned and seen and the things that we still hope to learn and see during the second-half our residencies.
(Photo Credits: Rachel Ward)