Co-Sponsored Event: Conserving Industrial Materials and Processes in Art

november 18-19 2016

Description:  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).   



** Final Conference Schedule **

Read Participant Bios


Symposium Locations: 

Nov 18 AM/Cochrane Woods Art Center, 5540 S. Greenwood Avenue

Nov. 18 PM/ Sustaining Fellows Lounge, Rubloff Bldg, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Avenue

Nov 19 All Day/ Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Penthouse, 915 E. 60th Street

Reception / Gray Center Lab, 929 E. 60th Street


Participants include:


Tim Bechthold, Die Neue Sammlung

Reinhard Bek, Bek & Frohnert, LLC

Patrick Clancy, Artist

Hardy Geismar, University College London

T. Gunny Harboe, Harboe Architects

Maria Kokkori, Art Institute of Chicago

Pip LawrensonTate

Laura Major, ColorLab

Michael Mansfield, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Christine Mehring, University of Chicago

Sylvie Pénichon, Art Institute of Chicago

Charles Ray, Artist

Christian Scheidemann, Contemporary Conservation Ltd

Carol Stringari, Guggenheim Foundation

Ann Temkin, Museum of Modern Art

Amanda Trienens, Cultural Heritage Conservation

Joyce Tsai (University of Iowa)

Anna Weiss-Pfau (University of Chicago)

Matthew S. Witkovsky, The Art Institute of Chicago

Lisa Young, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,  

Lisa Zaher, University of Chicago

Respondents include:

Bill Brown, University of Chicago

Matthew Jesse Jackson, University of Chicago

Sean Keller, Illinois Institute of Technology

Richard Neer, University of Chicago

Joel Snyder, University of Chicago


This conservation symposium is part of a larger UChicago Arts initiative entitled Concrete Happenings.  Through a year-long series of events, presenters invite art-lovers and car-lovers, artists and scholars, drivers and pedestrians to confront the power of public art—the strange power of a massive sculpture produced by Fluxus artist Wolf Vostell. In 1970, in Chicago, Vostell encased a Cadillac in concrete. The product of that “happening,” Concrete Traffic, will be installed in a University of Chicago campus parking garage this fall. It will serve as the provocation for a comprehensive suite of exhibitions and interactive public programs—performances, screenings, talks, art workshops, happenings—that offer unique opportunities to engage with a crucial art historical moment and movement, and to explore the intensities with which an artwork can form and transform its publics.

Presented by: the Department of Art History, the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, and the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT), in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. Additional support has been generously provided by the Goethe-Institut, and the University of Chicago's Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, Humanities Division, Franke Institute for the Humanities, UChicago Urban, the Department of Germanic Studies, and the Film Studies Center.