In 1990, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a grant to the Menil Collection for Carol Mancusi-Ungaro to create a series of interviews with artists in front of their works of art in order to understand a great deal more than had hitherto been known about artists’ materials and techniques. The funding enabled the filming of the interviews that were intended primarily as research documents. Unlike programmed questionnaires that were widely used by museums at the time, this unique approach was designed to capture the artist’s attitude toward the aging of the art and those aspects of its preservation that were of paramount importance to the artist. Structured as a conversation between the artist and conservator, the intent was to document the current state of the work of art under discussion as well as the artist’s intonation and thought processes that lay behind his or her opinions. These important features were, and continue to be, lost in written questionnaires and published interviews.
From the outset, it was understood that the interviews would serve as in-house records that could be viewed by scholars and other interested individuals by appointment at the Menil Collection. However, given the increasing historical importance of the artists interviewed and the ground-breaking nature of the project, which became known as the Artists Documentation Program (ADP), requests for access grew beyond what was originally imagined. Simultaneously, the scope of the artists interviewed grew geographically. While Elizabeth Lunning and Brad Epley continued the ADP program at the Menil Collection, additional interviews consistent with the ADP method were conducted and housed in Cambridge and New York after Ms. Mancusi-Ungaro left the Menil in 2001 to pursue dual roles at the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art/Harvard Art Museums, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Initially, the ADP served to inform the caretakers of art at the Menil Collection about the attitude of an artist toward the preservation of his or her work and to provide conservators with concrete information about favored materials and techniques. More than simply a fact-finding mission, the ADP project continues to explore how an artist manipulates material for visual effect. This process is as varied and as personal as the art that is created. Hence, in order for a creator to share this information, a level of trust must be established between the artist and conservator. When this privileged exchange occurs, a previously unimaginable level of insight is imparted.
A steady stream of requests to view the interviews demonstrated the influential nature of their approach and the increasing relevance of their content. A recent project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation established a permanent ADP interview archive at the Menil Collection.