In the second of her reports on the Collecting Contemporary workshops run with postgraduate students from the School of History of Art, Regina Konovalova discusses the group’s rare glimpse behind-the scenes at the National Galleries of Scotland incredible storage facilities situated in the north of the Edinburgh.
Activities have been led by Kirstie Skinner (2015/16 Fellow in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating) and Kirsten Lloyd (Teaching Fellow in Curatorial Practice).
Conservation considerations for collecting contemporary art were brought up in our second workshop in December 2015, when the collections development group had an opportunity to visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s storage facility in Granton and conduct a conversation with the artist Claire Barclay, senior curator Lucy Askew, senior painting conservator Lorraine Maule and conservation technician Paul Rimmer. We addressed a range of questions surrounding the acquisition and conservation of Claire’s art work ‘Trappings’.
‘Trappings’ was commissioned by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern art for GENERATION: 25 Years Of Contemporary Art in Scotland (2014) – a nationwide celebration of art produced in Scotland. It is a large and complex piece of installation art that consists of many elements, including wood, leather, printed fabric, brass and honey. The exploration and juxtaposition of different materialities is central to Claire’s work. Claire herself produces many of the parts, while she commissions others - such as the machined brass bowls - from highly skilled makers. But her primary creative focus is in the installing of the work - a process that is fluid and responds to a particular space and, in this case, to the spirit of the commission itself. Unusually, the Generation commission had a retrospective remit, and Claire found a way to incorporate elements of previous works into a new whole.
‘Trappings’ was not created with acquisition in mind, so when the National Galleries of Scotland became intent on bringing it into their collection, it raised a lot of questions for curators and the conservation team, which they addressed in extensive conversations with the artist, coming up with a number of creative solutions.
One of the key concerns for the conservation team was the creation of the storage and transportation environment that minimized strain on materials when handling. In order to achieve that three separate crates were designed and crafted specifically for ‘Trappings’ in which the works nestle into each other and can be packed and unpacked in the safest, most practical order. This creative solution will, furthermore, allow Claire’s work to be redisplayed in parts, as well as a whole, whether elsewhere in the galleries or on loan.
Because of the nature of the work The National Gallery of Scotland will continue to consult Claire on the restaging of ‘Trappings’ while it is still a possibility. With future curators and audiences in mind, however, extensive interviews with Claire are held in order to capture her thoughts on the meaning of the works in general and the important relationships between the elements within it, as well as more practical concerns such as the conservation of the integrity of different materials and the need to replace those that are not designed to last, like honey.