How to take care

Art Jameel’s new Collection Care Fellowship is one of those moves that don’t usually grab the headlines but which probably deserves to. It’s all about practical aspects of museum and public art gallery work including conservation, archives and digitalisation, documentation, environmental concerns, shipping and storage. The Fellowship, and the research it generates, should contribute significantly to the development of a professional art management culture in the region.

Conventionally the thinking behind these practices have been dominated by the West, but the objective of the Collection Care Fellowship is to encourage “new approaches that are applicable to institutions based in the Gulf, the broader West Asia region and beyond”.

The first two recipients of what will be a biennial award are Amanda Pagliarino, who’s Head of Conservation, Registration and Imaging Services at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane; and Rachelle Tabet, Deputy Director of Collections at Mathaf in Doha.

Pagliarino (left) will be focusing on loans, and especially the procedures that apply to loans for institutions in dry, arid, humid, or tropical climates; or, as the press release puts it, “the uneasy alignment between current international loan protocols that favour the temperate climate of Europe, United Kingdom and North America with the experience of collecting institutions situated in the Gulf, West Asia region and the Southern Hemisphere”. Frankly, loan arrangements including transportation and packaging are usually predicated on environmental guidelines that are better suited to temperate climates.

Amanda Pagliarino describes herself as passionate about cultural art conservation and has written and spoken widely on sustainable practices in collection management and conservation of contemporary art. A while ago she wrote a report on “the development of sustainable collection environment guidelines for Australian cultural heritage organisations” which summarised what we assume will be some of the key issues for her Jameel Fellowship:

  • determining suitable parameters for the safe display and or storage of mixed collection materials
  • addressing industry practices about loans “and enabling broad-scale change”
  • access to expertise on standards relating to the collection environment and the implementation of alternate temperature and relative humidity parameters.

This is good, practical stuff, and it’s important – because it’s important that there should be an effective and sustainable flow of loans and other collaborations internationally.

Beirut-born Rachelle Tabet (right) is a preventive conservation specialist (with an MA in the subject) and recently completed a 12-month stint as an Andrew W Mellon Conservation Fellow at the Metropolitan in New York (which coincidentally is one of Art Jameel’s collaborative partners). That too had a very practical research focus: creating alternative housings for photographs using materials manufactured in Lebanon.

She’ll be developing this for the Jameel Fellowship, researching alternative housing and storage strategies for art collections in the Middle East and Asia in view of limited access to conservation-quality materials and the region’s varying climate zones. She’s also aiming for intensely practical solutions – “innovative and context-specific material testing methodologies”, says the release.

There’s probably a practical interest for Art Jameel too, since it maintains a collection of works by more than 190 artists and collectives that is itself a site of research – “exploring the nature and responsibility of museum collections”. Antonia Carver, Director of Art Jameel, described the Fellowship as “a new, collaborative element within a broader commitment by Art Jameel to radically rethink the nature of institutional art collecting, from the perspective of the Global South and in a time of global climate crisis”.

The Collection Care Fellowship will culminate with research reports including detailed data analysis and findings to be presented at the Art Jameel Collection Summit to be held next year at Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai.

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