Art, Media, Science.

Chris McGlinchey,
Conservation Scientist

  • Scientific consulting for art and the people who create, collect, curate, and care for it.

    Art transcends the material

    Looking beyond an artwork’s material properties is where true understanding begins. When carefully considered, scientific support informs and preserves what is essential to a particular artwork’s aesthetic value—beyond its physical composition. My consulting services support the creation, fabrication, examination, preservation, conservation, display, and storage of art.

    Over thirty-five years of conservation science experience in the visual arts, I have applied science to understand and preserve art, not simply the media it is made from. My work has included the analysis and care of paintings by Old and Modern Masters from Dürer to de Kooning, design objects dating from the Renaissance to today, and installations by leading contemporary artists experimenting in nearly all forms of modern media. Notable examples include performative works by Tania Bruguera and technologically advanced, nature-inspired designs by Neri Oxman.

    Media transforms into art

    While media is fundamental, my approach recognizes that the procedures an artist follows—whether by choice or chance—are what fully transform matter into art. An artist’s methods not only drive appearance but can affect how their work ages. Many modern materials exert changes beyond the fading and discoloration familiar in centuries-old artworks; it might surprise you that for most media, traditional and modern, change is often greatest for art that is young.

    Virtually every class of paint medium used in the fine and decorative arts over the last seven centuries, as well as objects made from glass, ceramic, plastic, various metals, and metal alloys (ancient and modern), have been under my investigation. My background in polymer science grounds my work with bio- and modern synthetics from monofilaments like fibers to three-dimensional objects as much as my understanding of how paint behaves while wet and dry. I also provide critical conservation and curatorial support for works on paper, photography, sculpture, textiles, time-based media, and performative art.

    Science strives for the sublime

    Scientific methods advance the understanding of an artwork at the elemental or molecular level. When expertly interpreted, this technical information informs what we appreciate as the work’s aesthetic and emotional value and how best to preserve it. Such insight helps us understand what an artwork originally looked like, how it might change if exhibited or stored a certain way, and the parameters for the safest and most effective conservation treatment. For artists, scientific support can help them explore innovative processes or modifications to existing techniques.

    Throughout my career, I have innovated and applied a wide variety of scientific methods. I pioneered the application of handheld X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, now the standard for non-destructive point analysis in thousands of research facilities; developed optically correct varnishes for Old Master paintings used universally throughout the conservation community. Some of my more recent advanced studies include research at the SWING and IPANEMA beamline of the SOLEIL synchrotron facility in France and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory. I am currently involved in an R&D study of adhesives at the University of Akron’s National Polymer Innovation Center and New York University.