Conservation Center: Program Overview

The conservation program of the Institute of Fine Arts was born out of the existing art history graduate program in the late 1950s. With that in mind, the program was designed as a “three-legged stool”, by which the conservator is supported in equal measure by art historical study, scientific training, and practical experience. Aside from being the first program of its kind, it is the only conservation graduate program that has its roots in an art history program and is unique in conferring a dual degree: an MS in the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and an MA in the History of Art and Archaeology.

Located just off Fifth Avenue in the Stephen Chan House, across from the Institute of Fine Arts’ James B. Duke House, the Center enjoys ready access to the Institute’s academic resources, as well as those of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and other nearby museums, galleries, private collections, auction houses, and historic properties. The Center’s location makes it easy to draw upon the many conservators and conservation scientists in the area, creating a dynamic atmosphere in which to learn our three programmatic fundamentals—art history, conservation theory and practice, and conservation science.

Requirements

A total of 22 courses (73 points) are required for the dual-degree program: 15 conservation courses (45 points) and seven art history courses (28 points). 

MS in the Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works

The 15 conservation courses include the eight core courses:

  1. Material Science of Art & Archaeology I (FINH-GA.2101.001)
  2. Material Science of Art & Archaeology II (FINH-GA.2102.001)
  3. Technology & Structure of Works of Art I: Organic Materials (FINH-GA.2103.001)
  4. Technology & Structure of Works of Art II: Inorganic Materials (FINH-GA.2104.001)
  5. Instrumental Analysis I (FINH-GA.2105.001)
  6. Instrumental Analysis II (FINH-GA.2106.001)
  7. Principles of Conservation: Treatment Methodologies (FINH-GA.2107.001)
  8. Preventive Conservation (FINH-GA.2108.001)

Technology & Structure of Works of Art III: Time-Based Media (FINH-GA.2019.001) is an additional required core course specific to students enrolled in the time-based media art specialization taking the place of Instrumental Analysis II, which is not required for this specialization. 

The remaining seven open conservation electives focus on a student’s area of concentration. At least one of these electives must be an advanced science course. 

A fourth-year Internship serves as the capstone for the MS in conservation.

MA in the History of Art & Archaeology

Seven art history courses are required for the MA portion of the conservation dual degree program. Foundations I and Directed Research Towards the MA Thesis are both required courses. The Foundations II requirement for all MA students (topics in technical art history) is automatically fulfilled by the core course Technology & Structure of Works of Art I, leaving five open electives.

These five electives must satisfy at least three distribution areas. Within these five electives, at least two seminars are required. The two seminars cannot be in the same distribution area. A distribution area can be repeated as long as, overall, the three distribution areas are met, even if a student takes more than the required two seminars.

The eight areas of art history study are:

  1. Pre-Modern Asia
  2. Pre-modern Africa and the Middle East
  3. The Ancient Mediterranean and Middle East, Including Egypt
  4. Pre-modern Europe and the Americas
  5. Post-1750 Global
  6. Museum and Curatorial Studies
  7. Technical Studies of Works of Art
  8. Architectural History

The following illustrates an acceptable registration: 1) a lecture in Post-1750 Global, 2) a seminar in Pre-Modern Asia, 3) a lecture in Architectural History, 4) a seminar in Architectural History, and 5) a seminar in Pre-Modern Europe and the Americas.

NOTE: Foundations II course electives (Technical Studies of Works of Art distribution area) for conservation students count as a conservation elective, not as an art history elective.

Languages

MA students must demonstrate proficiency in reading one modern research language other than English that is relevant to their studies. Proficiency is demonstrated by passing an examination administered by the Institute of Fine Arts. International students focusing on a field of study in which their native language is relevant may be granted an exemption from the language requirement pending submission of an exemption form signed by their advisor and the Director of Masters Studies.

Master’s Thesis

A Master’s Thesis is required for the MA degree. The Thesis will be of substantial length (9,000 words) and should provide a comprehensive treatment of a problem in scholarship, competently written, and may be of publishable quality. The topic may be developed from papers written for a lecture course, seminar or colloquium, or from independent research. Students in the conservation program are encouraged to include technical studies in the Master’s Thesis, provided the paper retains its focus on art history or archaeology.

Readers: The Master’s Thesis must be read and approved by two faculty members. Readers are normally members of the permanent faculty. In consultation with the Director of Masters Studies, the student will arrange for a MA Thesis advisor at the beginning of his or her third semester. This advisor, who will normally direct and serve as primary reader of the Master’s Thesis, must be in residence during the full time student’s second year (third year for the conservation program). The second reader is arranged for by the MA Thesis advisor.

The staging of the Master’s Thesis is as follows:

At the start of the third year (fifth semester): Student determines and submits the thesis topic and a list of three potential advisors to the Academic Office in October. The student is assigned a thesis advisor in October. The thesis proposal (500 words with brief bibliography and one illustration) is submitted to the MA Thesis advisor in early November. An outline is submitted to the Thesis advisor and the Academic office in December.

Spring semester of the third year (sixth semester): Enroll in Directed Research Towards the MA Thesis. Students submit a revised and annotated bibliography in January. A complete first draft of at least 7,000 words is submitted in mid-March to your thesis advisor. The final version of the thesis is to be submitted to the Academic Office in mid-to-late April. Both readers must approve the thesis before the student begins their fourth-year Internship.

YEAR ONE

All students enrolled in the conservation program follow the mandatory two-year cycle of core courses specifically designed to establish the fundamentals of materials science, analytical techniques, treatment methodologies across specializations, and preventive care. The first year introduces students to an understanding of materials and technology, with a heavy emphasis on direct observation utilizing the collections of major New York City museums. Art History studies start with an introductory methodologies course (Foundations I) and two open electives.

Summer Opportunities

At NYU, conservation students have three summers in which to explore their interests. They can participate in an archaeological excavation at an Ancient Mediterranean site; spend a few weeks at Villa La Pietra in Florence, Italy, working on small-scale projects from the Villa’s vast collection; intern in a European Museum’s paintings conservation lab as part of the Kress Program in Paintings Conservation; hone their bookbinding skills in a four-week intensive program as part of the Mellon Library & Archive program; or intern at a private conservation or museum laboratory.

The following is only a generalization of the program. Individual student registrations may vary according to specialization:

Fall Semester

  1. Technology & Structure of Works of Art I

  2. Material Science of Works of Art I

  3. Foundations I in Art History

  4. Art History Elective (Lecture) 

Spring Semester

  1. Technology & Structure of Works of Art II

  2. Material Science of Works of Art II

  3. Principles of Conservation

  4. Art History Elective (Seminar)

Summer 1

  • Internship(s), participation in an IFA-sponsored or co-sponsored archaeological dig, conservation projects at Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy

YEAR TWO

Students conclude the core cycle and, having decided on their specialization the first year (Mellon TBM and Mellon Library & Archive students commit to their specialization at application), begin training in their chosen area of conservation study. Formal courses in each specialization, as well as conservation-specific science topics, are offered at the Center and at museums and conservation labs in New York City. Objects chosen for treatment come from the Center’s own study collection, private collectors, and institutions around the U.S. who lack conservation facilities. Students work on a significant number of pieces while in the program, the majority of which are full treatments or technical studies. This includes initial condition report writing, art historical research, scientific analysis, treatment proposal writing, full documentation—written and photographic, full treatment completion, final report writing, and packing or rehousing. 

Given the wealth of local resources available to them, students can also pursue independent research projects in areas of particular interest to them at museums or private laboratories across the city.

The emphasis placed on art history within the curriculum is an indication of the importance we attach to providing students with the social, historical, and theoretical contexts for the objects they will treat. Over three years, students devote a significant amount of time to becoming familiar with the literature in several areas of art history, writing clear and scholarly prose, and preparing and delivering seminar presentations. Within their first two years of study, students must also successfully pass a language translation exam in one modern research language, other than English, relevant to their studies.

Fall Semester

  1. Instrumental Analysis I

  2. Advanced Conservation or Art History Elective

  3. Advanced Conservation or Art History Elective

  4. Art History Elective

Spring Semester

  1. Instrumental Analysis II

  2. Preventive Conservation

  3. Advanced Conservation or Art History Elective

  4. Art History Elective

Summer 2

  • Internship(s), participation in an IFA-sponsored or co-sponsored archaeological dig, conservation projects at Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy

YEAR THREE

Students continue their art history education and advanced conservation treatment coursework. An advanced science elective is also required.

Any remaining requirements for the MA degree in art history, including the completion of the Master’s Thesis, are completed this year. Simultaneously, students work with their faculty advisor and the Chair to make arrangements for a fourth-year Internship.

Fall Semester

  1. Advanced Conservation or Art History Elective

  2. Advanced Conservation or Art History Elective

  3. Art History Elective

Spring Semester

  1. Advanced Conservation or Art History Elective

  2. Advanced Conservation or Art History Elective

  3. Directed Research Towards the MA Thesis

Summer 3

  • Internship(s), participation in an IFA-sponsored or co-sponsored archaeological dig, conservation projects at Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy

YEAR FOUR

The fourth and final year is spent completing a nine-month Internship in a conservation establishment in the United States or abroad, selected to provide the best possible training in the student’s area of concentration. Monthly reports detailing Internship activities are collected from each student.

Fall Semester

  • Internship Placement

Spring Semester

  • Internship Placement (continued)