Final Entry: Talking with Kate Lewis of the MoMA Conservation Lab

For our final meeting of the semester, we met with a super exciting guest being the chief conservator of MoMA, Kate Lewis! Like with many of these meetings I was initially a bit intimidated meeting such a prominent figure in the art world, but Lewis too was very friendly and willing to answer questions and delve into the ins and outs of conservation, much of the field having been a mystery to me before. While I hadn’t known much about conservation, I used to be very interested in working in museum collections though from a more archaeological-based perspective, so it was enlightening to hear about museum-based careers from a fine arts position. 

Lewis began by giving us a virtual tour of sorts through some of the exhibitions and permanent galleries at MoMA. While I’ve visited MoMA two or three times, I still don’t have a very clear mental image of its layout, so it was helpful to help me picture it again not being able to visit in person. She then showed us some of the different conservation studios scattered throughout the building. For some reason I had pictured them to be hidden in the basement or somewhere similarly mysterious, but they were located on above ground levels with beautiful lighting pouring in through the windows. Lewis then guided us through some of the conservation and preservation techniques such as a scanner they sometimes rent to look at the chemical/elemental makeups of pigments on pieces. Though if I am being honest, I am not the most scientifically-minded person so some of this information I didn’t absorb quite as much!

MoMA COnservation Lab

Lewis then opened up the discussion to questions about her career path as well as conservation techniques, etc. I asked what materials/artworks preserve the best and might theoretically hold up in say one-thousand years, as I just think it’s fun to think about the far future and what cultural heritage we might leave behind for future generations. I think it’s amazing that Lewis and the MoMA conservation lab have future generations of conservators and viewers in mind, as much of their conservation work isn’t just to make sure artworks look presentable for current exhibitions but much of it is preventative care so works last throughout the years.

As this was the last meeting with guests of Art Semester and my last entry, I think it would be fitting to close with some parting thoughts! It’s of course unfortunate that we couldn’t have these meetings in person and physically visit these studios, galleries, and museums, but the online format worked surprisingly well and I was still able to enjoy my time talking with these artists, curators, etc. As someone who usually focuses on pre-modern and pre-contemporary art, it was refreshing and illuminating to get a glimpse of the contemporary art world and the works being made today/the current artists working. All of the visits were fascinating, but some personal highlights include a very timely conversation with Eleanor Heartney about doom in art, as well as talking with Keith Allyn Spencer and Claudia Bitran! When things go back to “normal”, I’m ecstatic to visit some of the galleries and museums we touched upon in class in person!