Conserving Industrial Materials and Processes in Art

In collaboration with the Department of Art History and the Art Institute of Chicago, UChicago Arts and the Gray Center present Conserving Industrial Materials and Processes in Art. This two day symposium is being held as part of Concrete Happenings, a year of programming celebrating the installation of Wolf Vostell's Fluxus sculpture Concrete Traffic at the University.

Friday, November 18th
Morning: Cochrane Woods Art Center
Afternoon: Sustaining Fellows Lounge, Rubloff Building, Art Institute of Chicago

Saturday, November 19th
Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts
Reception: Gray Center Lab  

Knowledge of the material history of Wolf Vostell’s monumental public sculpture, Concrete Traffic (1970), demonstrates the profound contributions of technical art history for narratives of postwar and contemporary art, emphasizing the significance of the life of materials for generating and sustaining meaning, the value of investigating gaps between a work’s conception and its form, and the conditions for defining the material and historical limits of a work of art.   However, the combination of the sculpture’s industrial materials and technical components—its concrete shell, automobile armature, and rubber tires—also underscores the value of scientific analysis and information exchange between the fine and applied arts, industry and science, as well as between the professionals who conserve industrial materials and consumer technologies in diverse contexts. Regardless of their end point - whether as industrial objects or works of art - industrial materials often undergo similar production processes.  For art objects in particular, these processes come with a shared set of concerns, including questions about agency and authorship (often involving an artist and a fabricator), differences between original concepts and resulting forms, and the aesthetic value of a surface or resulting image formed by mechanical means or treated with industrial compounds.

To address the unique challenges posed by industrial materials and processes in art, UChicago Arts and its partners have organized a two-day symposium which brings together leading practitioners in conservation and collection care.  Participants will focus on experimental practices with industrial materials, pairing conservation case studies in fine art with parallel applications of concrete, plastic, and metal, in architecture, design, and industry. Conservators, architects, art historians and curators will present case studies on advancements in the use, re-use, restoration, and conservation of structures, surfaces and mechanisms made from these materials, exploring the relations between each material’s science and their cultural meanings.

As part of our exploration of the significance of a direct material investigation for the history of modern and contemporary art, the symposium will include site visits to Vostell's Concrete Traffic and to the retrospective exhibition of Hungarian modernist artist, László Moholy-Nagy, along with a presentation, projected and on a rewind table, of Patrick Clancy’s recently restored film, peliculas (1979).