It’s About Time! Round Table: Consultants on Contract

This week’s contributing blogger, Taylor Healy, is a second-year graduate student at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center. With a background in studio art and a proclivity for technology in the arts, she is pursuing a concentration in time-based media art conservation.

VoCA is pleased to present this blog post in conjunction with the NYU/IFA Conservation Center’s Symposium “It’s About Time! Building a New Discipline: Time-Based Media Art Conservation,” held at NYU in May 2018. The program was organized by Hannelore Roemich and Christine Frohnert and was generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


A main theme revealed itself during each presentation and round table discussion during the Time-based Media Symposium: understanding and defining our own field is essential for moving forward. While facing this challenge, concerns such as establishing collaborations, redefining terminology, developing continuing education, sourcing teaching material, and determination of skill sets were raised by the speakers, moderators, and attendees. During the afternoon session on the first day, Paul Messier (Art Conservator, Pritzker Director, Lens Media Lab, Yale University) moderated the round table discussion, Consultants on Contract—Part of the Team, highlighting several of these latent themes from the perspective of consultants in private practice. Panel members included Andreas Weisser, Consultant for Analog and Digital Preservation at restaumedia in Munich, who splits his time between freelance and the Doerner Institute. Also splitting her work as a professor and consultant was Agathe Jarczyk, Studio for Video Conservation in Berne. Representing New York City private conservation practice, the duo Reinhard Bek and Christine Frohnert, Conservators of Contemporary Art, Bek & Frohnert LLC. Ben Fino-Radin, an expert in digital preservation and repositories, is providing a particular skill set that is in high demand in this field.

From left to right: Panelists Andreas Weisser, Reinhard Bek, Ben Fino-Radin, Agathe Jarczyk, Christine Frohnert, and Paul Messier

The panel discussed a range of issues many institutions—of varying sizes and target audiences—are facing after they have identified urgent needs in their collections. What resources are needed for long-term preservation and display of TBM art? What expertise is required for decision makers on various levels? The role of consulting conservators dealing with time-based media has evolved out of necessity, in response to specific needs in the field. During their presentations, and echoed in the discussion, the panelists demonstrated the flexibility required to approach time-based collections. The panel members all agreed that major efforts should be taken to raise awareness about the complexity of TBM art conservation as they take on roles as liaisons between artists, institutions, and technicians. Considering the diversity of skills required for each media category, redundancy while learning skills can be avoided when certain tasks are outsourced to the respective experts. A major concern for time-based media collectors, for both institutional and private, is storage. An inquiry was raised about recommendations for managing digital repositories. However, like many situation-based questions, the answers were anecdotal, highlighting another issue that requires more investigation.

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Guest speaker Christine Frohnert, Conservator of Contemporary Art, Bek & Frohnert LLC

The issue of mentorship, especially regarding the relevant skills needed for setting up a business, was raised during the discussion. It was generally recognized that management skills are not built into many conservation programs, and such mentorships in conservation training would be valuable. Agathe and Andreas mentioned that their programs provided mentorships in this area, and additionally, addressed the obligation of faculty and colleagues to assist any emerging conservators entering a career in private practice.

Audience members clamored to question the panel. Tina Rivers Ryan, Assistant Curator at the Albright-Knox, inquired about approaching private collectors and connecting them with the right conservators. This concern for bringing external expertise to collectors and mid-size museums and building in-house relations was followed by an auditorium full of nods. The focus of this concern turned to the collector themselves rather than the needs of a specific work. Panelists identified the double-edged sword in these cases: either the collector is an individual working with an art advisor that will ideally let you just do whatever is necessary or can be really difficult when the collector doesn’t understand the basic needs of TBM works. Private collections usually have a history of their own, and the owners will have personal memories about the works, which becomes a valuable part of their collections and gives it another dimension of documentation. Thankfully, time-based media art collectors can be extremely genuine and philanthropic— the majority is passionate about the piece and sees it as a personal part of their collection rather than as an investment picked up at auction.

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Guest speaker Andreas Weisser, Consultant for Analog and Digital Preservation at restaumedia in Munich

The diversity of the panel was most impressive; their backgrounds, flexibility, and experiences perfectly illustrated the unabating support and collaboration necessary to navigate a field that is developing as fast as the media evolve. As one of the first guinea pigs to enter NYU’s Time-Based Media conservation curriculum, I am a primary beneficiary of these conversations that shape this concentration.

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