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Friday, May 31 • 2:40pm - 3:00pm
(Contemporary Art Session 1) Working Together Through Hard Truths: The Conservation and Exhibition of Thornton Dial’s Complex Artworks

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The contemporary artist Thornton Dial was born in 1928 in Sumter County, Alabama; his work is rooted in the under-represented visual art traditions of the African-American South and presents potent commentaries about social issues such as war, racism, politics, and poverty. While his work has been included in the Whitney Biennial as well as in solo exhibitions at the New Museum, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of American Folk Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s touring exhibition Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, is the most extensive and widely recognized show of the artist’s work ever mounted.

Dial creates very large, complex assemblages of scavenged materials—textiles, scrap metal, animal bones and hides, plastics, wood, glass, epoxy modeling compound, and paint. Many of the materials in the works were already in a deteriorated state at the time in which Dial created his artworks, and most of the works were subjected to storage conditions that did not meet museum standards before the exhibition. These facts made the artworks especially challenging to prepare, pack, ship and conserve. In order to do so, IMA conservators traveled twice to Dial’s studio in Bessamer, Alabama to interview Dial in order to learn more about him as an artist and how to approach the care of his work. Discussions with the artist and his family directly informed the approach that the IMA followed throughout the entire exhibition process. Many pieces included in the show required fumigation and treatment ahead of the exhibition. As the exhibition proceeded, further challenges were faced as damages occurred during shipping of the works between venues.

Close collaboration between the registrar, textile and object conservators, mountmaker, and curator was essential to making the exhibition a success. This paper will present the honest story about the challenges of planning and executing this exhibition of immensely important, but complex and fragile contemporary works of art. While the inherent risks in transporting these artworks were recognized by the IMA staff, it was clear to those involved in the project that these risks were greatly outweighed by the opportunity to introduce Dial’s work to a wide audience.


Laura Kubick

Assistant Conservator of Objects and Variable Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art
Laura Kubick is the Assistant Conservator of Objects and Variable Art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where she works with all types of objects in the IMA's diverse collection. Her recent work has included treatment of an 18th century polychromed Christ figure, treatment of works... Read More →

Friday May 31, 2013 2:40pm - 3:00pm EDT
JW Marriott White River Ballroom E 10 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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