The Artist Initiative with Vija Celmins

by Robin Clark, May 2019
Scholars examine Vija Celmins’s work in the mock-up gallery at SFMOMA’s Collections Center

In preparation for Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory, the first North American retrospective of the artist’s work in twenty-five years, SFMOMA’s Artist Initiative team organized study days to examine Celmins’s work in depth. Curatorial and conservation staff from SFMOMA and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, who co-organized the exhibition, were joined by guest scholars to consult on the development of the list of works to show and the accompanying catalogue. Sessions took place in New York at the Museum of Modern Art’s Paper Conservation Laboratory, MoMA QNS, and Matthew Marks Gallery. Sessions in the San Francisco Bay Area were hosted at SFMOMA, SFMOMA’s Collections Center, and the Anderson Collection at Stanford University.

Scholars study Vija Celmins’s work at SFMOMA’s Collections Center

While the Vija Celmins exhibition was on view in San Francisco at SFMOMA, the Artist Initiative developed a separate series of workshops, which were hosted in the Celmins galleries and in SFMOMA’s Conservation Workroom (a study space within the Conservation studio). These workshops were designed to engage several specific audiences that the museum wishes to better serve: local artists, college and university groups, and multisensory researchers. (Emerging from disability studies and embracing universal design principles, multisensory research aims to offer aural, tactile, and other avenues of sensory access to visual art.) Participants were able to examine Celmins’s works using conservators’ tools such as a high-powered microscope and ultraviolet lights, and handled materials frequently used by Celmins, including cast bronze and graphite pencil on coated paper.

Participants in the workshop for local artists explore Vija Celmins’s materials and techniques
Examining a Vija Celmins painting under ultraviolet light
Participants in the workshop for local artists explore Vija Celmins’s materials and techniques
Examining a Vija Celmins painting under ultraviolet light

The workshops illuminated exciting pathways for involving more diverse audiences through direct engagement with artworks in dialogue with SFMOMA staff members.


The Artist Initiative with Vija Celmins

Through a series of study days and innovative workshops, the Artist Initiative team developed new display and interpretation strategies for the artwork of Vija Celmins.

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Robin Clark

Robin Clark

Robin Clark is the director of the Artist Initiative at SFMOMA.
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