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Still Life

Ecologies of the Modern Imagination at the Art Museum

Still Life

Ecologies of the Modern Imagination at the Art Museum

How do you keep the cracks in Starry Night from spreading? How do you prevent artworks made of hugs or candies from disappearing? How do you render a fading photograph eternal—or should you attempt it at all? These are some of the questions that conservators, curators, registrars, and exhibition designers dealing with contemporary art face on a daily basis. In Still Life, Fernando Domínguez Rubio delves into one of the most important museums of the world, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, to explore the day-to-day dilemmas that museum workers face when the immortal artworks that we see in the exhibition room reveal themselves to be slowly unfolding disasters.

Still Life offers a fascinating and detailed ethnographic account of what it takes to prevent these disasters from happening. Going behind the scenes at MoMA, Domínguez Rubio provides a rare view of the vast technological apparatus—from climatic infrastructures and storage facilities, to conservation labs and machine rooms—and teams of workers—from conservators and engineers to guards and couriers—who fight to hold artworks still.

As MoMA reopens after a massive expansion and rearranging of its space and collections, Still Life not only offers a much-needed account of the spaces, actors, and forms of labor traditionally left out of the main narratives of art, but it also offers a timely meditation on how far we, as a society, are willing to go to keep the things we value from disappearing into oblivion.


"The timely book by Fernando Domínguez Rubio [Still Life]. . . . in an original and exhaustive way. . . . Looking at the curatorial and conservation departments at MOMA (as well as its storage facilities) and combining approaches from material cultural studies, anthropology, and social studies of science and technology, presents what its author calls “an ecological vision” of modern art."

Public Books

Table of Contents

Towards an Ecology of Modern Categories

Part 1          Ecologies of Care

Introduction    Caring for the Same
Chapter 1.1     The Modern Object of Care
Chapter 1.2     The Elusive Object of Contemporary Art
Chapter 1.3     The Modern Subject of Care

Part 2          Ecologies of Containment

Introduction    The Aesthetics of Containment
Chapter 2.1     Containing Eternity
Chapter 2.2     Eternity on the Move

Part 3          Ecologies of Imagination

Introduction    Into the White
Chapter 3.1     The Interior Space of Art
Chapter 3.2     Exhibitions as Material Acts of Imagination

Part 4          Ecologies of the Digital

Chapter 4.1.    The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Fragility
The Cracks of the Modern Imagination



Association for the Study of Arts of the Present: ASAP Book Prize

ASA Culture Section: Mary Douglas Prize

Science, Knowledge, and Technology section, American Sociological Association: Robert K. Merton Award
Honorable Mention

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