Preeminent Conservation Scientist Appointed to Launch Collaboration

May 22, 2018

(Chicago – Tuesday, May 22, 2018) - The University of Chicago’s Department of Art History is partnering with the Institute for Molecular Engineering (IME), the Humanities Division, and the College to launch a visionary conservation science teaching collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. With support from philanthropist Suzanne Deal Booth, the department has created a five-year position to teach two classes each year in conservation and conservation science respectively: the Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminars. Over the course of five years, the program will also support an annual eight-week summer undergraduate research internship in the Department of Conservation and Science at the Art Institute.

Conservation and conservation science exemplify the kinds of interdisciplinary teaching and research happening across UChicago’s campus. As a part of the recently renewed Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded Chicago Objects Study Initiative (COSI), this collaboration aims to harness and deepen the university’s ongoing initiatives in the arts and applied sciences and connect them to the humanities, and to combine all three in distinct, innovative, and meaningful ways. 

“In addition to providing extraordinary pedagogical opportunities for a liberal arts education, the fields of conservation and conservation science open up exciting areas of student and public engagement with campus collections and Chicago’s urban environment,” said Professor Christine Mehring, Chair of the Department of Art History. “Over years of object-driven teaching, I have seen how the material and visual presence of art and architecture fosters not only heightened attention but empowers students from different backgrounds and disciplines: everyone looks at the same thing, together. There is so much untapped potential for students to investigate relations between the science and the meanings of artistic materials on our campus: like our newly revamped core course ‘Introduction to Art,’ the Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminars will engage artworks not only at the Art Institute and the Smart Museum, but also at the Oriental Institute, the Regenstein Library’s Special Collections, and our public art collection.” 

With the convergence of three recent initiatives—the five-year conservation of Wolf Vostell’s public sculpture Concrete Trafficled by Mehring, a 2016 Rhoades Seminar in technical art history, and COSI—interdisciplinary instruction on conservation and conservation science is coming to the forefront at UChicago. The collaboration will bring science students into meaningful contact with the humanities and vice versa, while enabling undergraduates to discover a lesser-known career path at a pivotal moment in their studies and internship explorations.

“This initiative strengthens the connection between the Art Institute and the University of Chicago, solidly establishing us as leaders and pioneers in creating networked communities that transcend institutional and disciplinary boundaries to catalyze innovation in the way we study, experience, and write about art,” said Francesca Casadio, Grainger Executive Director of Conservation and Science at the Art Institute. “This program opens up exciting opportunities in the sciences with UChicago, particularly the Institute of Molecular Engineering. Our collaboration will benefit from their cutting-edge facilities to study samples from works of art.”

IME, established in 2011 by UChicago in partnership with Argonne National Laboratory, is a transformational academic unit and interdisciplinary research institute exploring the intersection of science and engineering. By converging multiple disciplines, IME is well-equipped to contribute to the collaborative nature of this new conservation teaching program.

“The chemical and materials science expertise in the Institute for Molecular Engineering is another piece of the repertoire that the University of Chicago brings to art conservation, guided by colleagues with skills in the subject matter of the art itself and its history,” said Matthew Tirrell, Pritzker Director at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at UChicago.

The inaugural lecturer for this shared position is Maria Kokkori, Associate Conservation Scientist for Scholarly Initiatives at the Art Institute of Chicago. Kokkori holds an MSc degree from the University of Cambridge, a diploma in conservation of easel paintings, and received her PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London; she then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Courtauld Institute. During 2009-2011 she was a postdoctoral research fellow of the Malevich Society in New York. 

Miranda Garfinkle, UChicago undergraduate student, examining a 1930s foil-covered journal using stereomicroscope at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Kokkori’s skills in archival research, knowledge of paintings materials, techniques, and conservation, and her ability to conduct scientific analysis allow for a unique blend of instruction from which students will continue to benefit.

"Over the course of my academic career I have explored the intersection between art and science through coursework and hands-on work in art conservation,” said Alexandra Drexelius, a senior studying art history, criticism, and conservation. “This interdisciplinary approach to the study of art has been invaluable to my own art historical research. Courses taught by conservation scientist Maria Kokkori encouraged me to engage with material-based methodologies in art history."

Kokkori will teach two Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminars next year, one in the conservation and materials of art and one in conservation science. Open to both undergraduates and graduate students, the classes draw on ongoing research and treatments of objects in the Art Institute, the Smart Museum, the Oriental Institute, Special Collections, and the UChicago Public Art Collection. As part of her teaching appointment, Kokkori will also be available to advise related BA and/or MA theses in molecular engineering, chemistry, art history, or other related fields.

Additionally, Kokkori is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to teach conservation and conservation science topics for the COSI Objects and Materials Seminar, a required course for doctoral students in Art History; liaise between conservation and curatorial departments at the Art Institute and UChicago collections; conduct and supervise research for student COSI projects; and promote collaboration across institutions to further relevant conservation research. 

“The fields of art conservation and conservation science lie at the intersection of the humanities and the physical sciences,” Kokkori said. “Advances in art conservation and science have energized a renewed focus on object-driven inquiry in the discipline of art history.”

The first two Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminars, Modern & Contemporary Materialitiesand The Material Science of Art, will be offered in Fall and Winter 2018, respectively. Modern & Contemporary Materialitieswill explore the links between the materiality, making, and meaning of modern art and investigate how surface, form, texture, and color are localized in particular artistic or historical contexts. The Material Science of Artwill introduce students to the methods, theories, and strategies of scientific approaches to studying art objects and consider the meaning of different materials and surfaces across artistic media.

“Cultural heritage conservation is more than a static conservation of the past; it is a dynamic means of informing the future,” said Suzanne Deal Booth. Her own training in art history and conservation led Deal Booth to restoration work at world-class museums like the Centre Pompidou in Paris, support of contemporary art projects like James Turrell’s Skyspaces, and the founding of the non-profit organization The Friends of Heritage Preservation. She sees the Suzanne Deal Booth Conservation Seminars and the related internship as an opportunity to create awareness of the field and begin educating future conservators and conservation scientists using the latest research and technology. “It gives me great joy and personal satisfaction that these classes are structured to embrace science, art, history, and philosophy with the intention of broadening the students’ knowledge and love for this exciting, interdisciplinary field.”

As part of the partnership, the Department of Conservation and Conservation Science at the Art Institute will host different UChicago undergraduate student interns for five summers. During the first 8-week internship this year, a student will survey the Art Institute’s 20th-century art works on plastic supports in the Prints & Drawings collection to help determine conservation and display strategies. The intern will be able to deepen their knowledge of synthetic polymers used in art making, as well as have direct access to works of art and conservation and science expertise. Research will be undertaken at the Art Institute and UChicago, allowing the use of the analytical facilities, libraries, and other resources at both institutions. Kokkori will supervise the intern, who will also participate in the Art Institute’s professional development programming for all its interns and fellows.

“We are thrilled to open up these experiences to students not only in art history but in chemistry, physics, molecular engineering, and so many other related disciplines,” said Mehring. “But above all, conservation and conservation science allow these students from completely different fields to learn from one another.”

About the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago
For more than a century, art historians at the University of Chicago have made transformative interventions in the discipline. Today, the Department of Art History distinguishes itself with a combination of global scope, object-driven research, and committed interdisciplinarity. Faculty and students pursue research spanning five continents, as historical strengths in Asian, European, and North American art have expanded to include Latin American, African, and Islamic art, as well as the relations between these and other geographical areas traditionally treated in isolation. The Department participates in object-, material-, and site-based research that is often large-scale and collaborative, object-driven training in the Chicago Objects Study Initiative and Rhoades Program, and annual traveling seminars and conservation classes. Interdisciplinary commitments are manifest in faculty’s co-teaching, cross-appointments, and involvements in other departments, centers, and initiatives across campus, in the multiple workshops faculty and students in art history sponsor and participate in, and in the course work students are encouraged to pursue beyond art history.

About the Institute for Molecular Engineering

The Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, established in 2011 by the University of Chicago in partnership with Argonne National Laboratory, is a transformational academic unit exploring the intersection of science and engineering. IME’s mission is to translate advances in materials science, basic physics, chemistry, biology, and computation into new tools to address important societal problems. Building upon the University of Chicago’s mission of cross-collaboration and cutting-edge research, IME leads science and engineering research and education in new directions, solves technological problems of global significance, and continually inspires creative applications of molecular-level science.

About the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago, founded in 1879, is a world-renowned art museum housing one of the largest permanent collections in the United States. The Art Institute collects, preserves, and interprets works in every medium, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions, and across all historical periods. With a collection of approximately 300,000 art works, the museum has particularly strong holdings in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting, modern and contemporary art, early 20th century European painting and sculpture, Japanese prints, and photography. The museum’s 2009 addition, the Modern Wing, features the latest in greenmuseum technology and 264,000 square feet dedicated to modern and contemporary art, photography, architecture and design, and new museum education facilities. The Art Institutemounts more than 35 special exhibitions per year and features lectures, gallery tours, and special performances on a daily basis.

About Suzanne Deal Booth

A philanthropist, arts advisor and collector, Suzanne Deal Booth is committed to the recognition, preservation, and conservation of visual arts and cultural heritage. While earning her BA in art history from Rice University and an MA in art history and conservation from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, work under the tutelage of Dominique de Menil introduced her to sophisticated cultural patronage. Before working at institutions such as les Monuments Historiques, The Kimbell Art Museum, The Menil Collection, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, she restored important 20th century paintings at the Centre Pompidou as a Kress post-graduate fellow. In 1998 Deal Booth founded The Friends of Heritage Preservation (FOHP), which has contributed to 60 preservation and conservation projects around the world. She currently serves on boards of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Menil Collection, Centre Pompidou Foundation, Ballroom Marfa, and The Contemporary in Austin, TX. In 2001, she and her family established the Booth Family Rome Prize Fellowship for Historic Preservation and Conservation at the American Academy in Rome. At the University of Chicago, she is a member of the Art Committee of the Booth School of Business.