Authenticity and the John G. Johnson Collection

November 2017

The Mellon Object-Based Learning workshop at the PMA in November 2017 tackled the issue of “authenticity.” Led by Emeritus Professor Larry Silver; Christopher D. M. Atkins, The Agnes and Jack Mulroney Associate Curator of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900; and Conservator Mark Tucker, the study day focused on close looking and technical examination of paintings as well as museum concerns about installations, including “period rooms.” Objects of interest emerged from the PMA exhibition of the Johnson Collection, because of well documented conservation histories and notable issues of attribution, particularly around Bosch and his followers. The workshop, held in the exhibition space as well as in object conservation at the PMA, thus offered the cohort of first-year graduate students the chance to examine these masterpieces closely, with both the unaided eye as well as with loupes and infrared camera assistance. For many of the students, this was a behind-the-scenes exposure to museum practices and concerns and a real opportunity to acquire comfort with the PMA setting for future visits. The Museum team of object-oriented art historians exemplified how the dialogue between conservators and curators remains crucial to successful understanding of collection objects. They generously passed on their object-handling skills, and object-questioning skills, while encouraging independent analysis from each graduate students. Even those outside their specific fields of study carried away a rich learning experience from the day.