The Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art investigates the materials and issues associated with the making and conservation of modern works of art. CTSMA serves as a resource for conservators, scholars, and students by collecting, preserving, and presenting relevant research and materials, such as artists’ materials and interviews, documents related to conservation assessments and treatments, and ephemera associated with the creative process. It disseminates this information through teaching, lecturing, and publication.
The center was founded in 2002 in partnership with the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The unique collaboration oﬀers Harvard scholars access to a world-class collection of modern and contemporary art and provides cutting-edge scientiﬁc technology for investigations of that art by the Art Museums’ Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. Drawing on the strength of each institution, the partnership fosters an interdisciplinary approach to the technical study of modern works through undergraduate teaching, graduate-level training for curatorial and conservation fellows, and innovative research.
CTSMA collects documentary material such as studio detritus and discarded trials, which provide a view into the artist’s creative process. Holdings include Barnett Newman’s studio materials — painting tools and supplies, damaged or unﬁnished paintings and multiples, drawings, sketches, notes, and models, as well as paint trials and canvas fragments — which have never been seen outside of Newman’s studio.
Archives of treatment reports, associated correspondence, and other documents from noninstitutional conservators of modern art are kept at the center, preserving a historical record of the physicality of selected objects. The center’s ﬁrst such acquisition is the papers of Orrin Riley, which currently await processing.
The center collects photographs of artists’ studios as well as documentation of artists at work in various media. These provide information about artists’ working methods and often show studio conditions and works of art in various states of completion. The center actively pursues new research and widely disseminates its ﬁndings. These include:
— An inventive study and treatment of a Donald Judd progression of 1965, published in partnership with the Whitney Museum of American Art
— A 2007 report on paintings believed by some to be by Jackson Pollock, in collaboration with the Art Museums’ Straus Center and Department of Modern and Contemporary Art
— A multiyear study of Mark Rothko’s three mural cycles: the Seagram Murals, the Harvard Murals, and the Rothko Chapel.
As an ongoing endeavor, the center continues the work of the Artists Documentation Program (ADP) that Carol Mancusi-Ungaro initiated in 1990 at The Menil Collection, Houston, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The program continues as a partnership between the Harvard Art Museums, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Menil Collection. The ADP Archive includes interviews with prominent artists about their materials and techniques, as well as their intent for the future preservation of works of art, providing enhanced scholarly access to digitized archival materials.
Founding director Carol Mancusi-Ungaro has taught seminars at Harvard College with Yve-Alain Bois, former Joseph Pulitzer Jr. Professor of Modern Art, in addition to teaching the popular freshman seminar “Material and Method in Modern Art.” She regularly teaches sections of “History of Art and Architecture 101: The Materials of Art,” and provides instruction for art history and conservation interns at the Art Museums. She is also a lecturer for graduate students at Columbia University and graduate-level conservation students at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.