Museum Debate: Material Matters: Materiality in Contemporary Art

This debate, Material Matters: Materiality in Contemporary Art brings together artists, curators, art historians and conservators for a critical discussion on the role that materials play in contemporary art practices, display and conservation methods. The event accompanies Unearthing: Memory, Land and Materiality, an exhibition curated by The Courtauld MA Curating the Art Museum cohort in collaboration with the Arts Council Collection. The debate is hosted in collaboration with The Courtauld’s Research Forum.

The artists in Unearthing work in a variety of materials such as clay, steel, photographic paper, and paint to evoke histories. In their practice, materials are directly linked to places as well as personal and collective memories. Inspired by the central role that materiality plays in the practice of contemporary artists in the exhibition, the debate will explore how museum practitioners, from their various perspectives, respond to the challenges it poses. The discussion will focus on how to negotiate the artist’s personal connection to materials, the preservation of the work, its interpretation and display for the publics.


Dr. Hélia Marçal is Lecturer in History of Art, Materials and Technology at University College London. From 2018-2020, she was the Fellow in Contemporary Art Conservation and Research for the project ‘Reshaping the Collectible: When Artworks Live in the Museum’ at Tate. She is the Coordinator of the Working Group on Theory, History and Ethics of Conservation of the Committee for Conservation of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC) since 2016. Her current research focuses on material histories of activist artworks, the conservation of time-based media and performance art, feminist new materialisms, and both the materiality of contemporary art and the ways it is positioned and negotiated by museum, heritage, and conservation practices.

Dr. Melanie Vandenbrouck is Curator, Sculpture 1900-Now at the Victoria & Albert Museum. At the V&A, she focuses on collection development and creating a programme of contemporary sculpture interventions. Previously, Melanie was Curator of Art, Post-1800 at Royal Museums Greenwich (2012-20); there, she founded the Museum’s Contemporary Arts Forum and foregrounded collecting contemporary art, particularly work by women artists and photography. She sees curating as a form of storytelling and uses her position as curator to champion creativity and make space for diverse voices and new conversations to be heard and thrive. Her curatorial interests lie in the porosity between art forms and disciplines, Modern British Art, and artists’ responses to the climate crisis.

Maureen Cross is a Senior Lecturer at The Courtauld Institute of Art who focuses on the techniques and materials of modern and contemporary artists, as well as applied conservation research for treatment solutions. Having previously taught for The Courtauld MA in the Conservation of Easel Paintings, she oversaw a rich curriculum investigating numerous aspects of a conservationist’s role, from the practical aspects of painting techniques for replicas and restoration projects, to the history and development of conservation from material to technique, overseeing the physical history of artworks and how this contributes to our overall understanding and research in History of Art. Maureen has gone on to have a prolific career alongside her many teaching and research projects, working in curatorial and conservation departments across the UK and the United States.

Abigail Reynolds is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary artist primarily based in western Cornwall. Throughout the first two decades of her career, her varied practice has been united by a continual interest in our experience of time and place. This is an interest that has translated into an innovative approach to art making, where materials and performances are warped and distorted to destabilise singular narratives and histories. She works across sculpture, print and film and two of her works in collage are featured in the Courtauld MA Curating exhibition ‘Unearthing: Memory, Land, Materiality.’ Her work is owned by the Arts Council Collection, Government Art Collection, Yale University Art Gallery, New York Public Library, and numerous private collections.

Organised by The Courtauld’s MA Curating the Art Museum 2022/23 cohort. 

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22 Jun 2023

Thursday 22nd June 2023, 18.30 - 20.00 BST

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square Campus

This is an in person event at our Vernon Square campus. Booking will close 30 minutes before the event begins.




Museum Debates
Abstract image showing an irregular black spot on a white background
Richard Serra (b. 1938. Works in New York), Courtauld Transparency #4 , 2013, Litho crayon on Mylar, The Courtauld, Gift of the artist, 2013.