You are here

PhD Research: Conservation of contemporary art and ethnographic materials: relationships, similarities and differences (Caitlin Spangler-Bickell)

Name Caitlin Spangler-Bickell

Title of research project / research interests

Conservation of contemporary art and ethnographic materials: relationships, similarities and differences

Type of research e.g. PhD or Postdoc

PhD research


Mudec (Museo delle Culture), Milan

Maastricht University

NACCA – New Approaches in the Conservation of Contemporary Art


Ma, PhD Carolina Orsini, Curator for Ethnographic collections, Mudec

Ma. Iolanda Ratti, Curator for Contemporary Art, Mudec

Prof. dr. R. van de Vall, Maastricht University

(Estimated) date of completion


Previous education and/or work experience

MSc summa cum laude in Social and Cultural Anthropology, KU Leuven

BA summa cum laude in Anthropology/Archaeology and French, Saint Mary’s College of California

Over the past decade Caitlin has undertaken ethnographic fieldwork and archaeological excavations as well as worked in various museum environments. She has gained experience in collections management and care, exhibition research and curation, education and public programmes, and heritage preservation initiatives at institutions such as: the Centrum voor Religieuze Kunst en Cultuur (Leuven, Belgium), Iziko South African Museum and South African National Gallery (Cape Town), Hearst Art Gallery (Moraga, California), Musée Angladon-Dubrujeaud (Avignon, France), and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Arts and Sciences (Fresno, California).


A number of parallels have been drawn between contemporary art and ethnographic materials, including the ephemerality of the materials used and especially the processual, performative, and interactive context in which these materials are situated. Documentational research methods from anthropology such as ‘participant observation’ have also been consulted by conservation researchers seeking to gain a holistic understanding of the challenges posed by contemporary artworks. The goal of this PhD project is to push the interdisciplinary trend further by exploring the relationship between these two fields of conservation. An anthropological approach to object conservation stems from a particular understanding of the interplay between material and immaterial culture, the creation and communication of value and meaning, and ethnography as a mode of research capable of documenting these phenomena. Critically examining this approach to ethnographic collections documentation and care, and its similarities to and differences from contemporary art conservation, the researcher will seek to understand how new methodologies, theoretical paradigms, and forms of documentation from one area of practice can benefit the other.


Ethnography, participant observation, material culture theories, documentation, materiality and immateriality

E-mail / Contact details