A Cross-country Symposium Extravaganza

This semester, some enticing professional meetings (sounds crazy, I know) managed to arrange themselves within one week of each other. They also managed to convince me that I should be in attendance at each of them, despite the fact that they took place on opposite sides of the country. Grad school is all about challenging yourself, right?

Leaving directly from class on a Thursday morning, I joined my classmate Sam, my instructor Joyce, and WUDPAC alumnus Amber Kerr-Allison for a quick drive up the coast to Boston, for the Second Association of Historians of American Art Annual Symposium. There, New York Times art critic Holland Cotter gave a great keynote address, sharing his own background, inspiring the audience to “be obsessed!” and setting the stage for two days of talks all about American art, artists, collectors, and institutions.  On Sunday we drove further north to  Maine, where the gorgeous show Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine was just opening at the Portland Museum of Art. Along with viewing the show and attending a couple of fascinating related lectures, we also toured Homer’s studio/home and Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck.

A perfect day to experience the Cliff Walk just outside of Homer’s studio.

I then left my fellow travelers and flew to L.A., swallowing any hints of jet-lag that threatened to dull my most-anticipated symposium of the week: The Siqueiros Legacy: Challenges of Conserving the Artist’s Monumental Murals, hosted by the Getty Conservation Institute. This two-day symposium focused on the conservation of several works by the radical Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, particularly America Tropicál (1932), a rooftop mural on historic Olvera Street in downtown L.A. Because of its controversial subject matter, the mural was completely whitewashed within a decade of its creation. Conservation of the mural began in 1990, and the final stage was just completed this fall. All aspects of the massive project were covered during the symposium, including the conservation treatment itself, the garnering of public and financial support, the design and implementation of a protective shelter and viewing platform, and the cultural and practical issues that arose during a construction project in a bustling commercial district filled with historic structures. Symposium participants also got to visit the downtown site, experiencing first-hand the freshly treated mural and new interpretive center. And as a bonus for me, WUDPAC alumni Emily MacDonald-Korth (of the GCI) and Laura Rivers (of the Getty Museum) showed me their respective labs and studios at the Getty Center.

America Tropicál as seen from the viewing platform.

Left: an interactive display inside the interpretive center. Right: view of the mural from Olvera Street.

I landed back on the East Coast just in time to drive straight from the airport to Thursday morning class — except for the fascinating art and scenery, a few new friends, some amazing presentations, and 6000+ miles covered, it was like I never left.

~ Jessica


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