Masterpiece Symposium | Museums, Research and Discovery: Modes of Discovery

This discussion focuses on how the sharing of objects, images and data between institutions, and between them and the public, can lead to types of discovery that might not otherwise be possible. The conversation explores the collaboration between collections; institutional transparency about provenance and other types of information; the possibilities for public participation in research; and how new technologies such as machine learning and computer vision might generate new ways of understanding museum collections.

What might we discover in and about museum collections in the not-too-distant future?

MacKenzie L. Mallon | Specialist, Provenance, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
Rebecca Roberts | Project Coordinator, Arcadia MAHSA, and Research Associate, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Pip Willcox | Head of Research, The National Archives, Kew
Louisa Wood Ruby | Executive Director, PHAROS: The International Consortium of Photoarchives, and formerly Head of Research, Frick Art Reference Library
Moderated by Thomas Marks | Associate Fellow, Warburg Institute, London

MacKenzie Mallon is the Provenance Specialist at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, where she coordinates provenance research on the museum collection. Her primary research interest is World War II-era provenance and the history of collections. Mallon curated the provenance-based exhibitions ‘Discriminating Thieves: Nazi-Looted Art and Restitution’ (2019) and ‘Origins: Collecting to Create the Nelson-Atkins’ (2021). Her most recent publication is ‘Discriminating Thieves: Exhibiting Nazi-era Provenance’ in Curator: The Museum Journal (2021). In addition to her research on the Nelson-Atkins collection, she enjoys serving as a speaker and moderator at provenance research-related programs and keeping up with her three teenage sons.

Rebecca Roberts is a Research Associate at the Fitzwilliam Museum and a Project Coordinator at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge. She recently curated the critically acclaimed ‘Gold of the Great Steppe’ exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, which showcased Iron Age artefacts on loan from the exhibition’s partner museum, The East Kazakhstan Regional Museum of Local History. At the McDonald Institute, she manages the Arcadia Fund project ‘Mapping Archaeological Heritage in South Asia’,  working alongside local stakeholders in the creation of an online database to document and manage vulnerable archaeological heritage in Pakistan and northwest India.

Louisa Wood Ruby is Executive Director of PHAROS: The International Consortium of Photoarchives. PHAROS is building a unique digital platform will contain over 25 million art-historical images with associated scholarly documentation, and be an essential resource for those engaged with new research methodologies. Before 2022, Wood Ruby was Head of Research at The Frick Art Reference Library where she oversaw the Center for the History of Collecting, the Scholars’ Program, and the Digital Art History Lab. Louisa received her PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University and is a specialist in Northern Baroque art.

Pip Willcox (she/her) is Head of Research at The National Archives (TNA) where she is responsible for research strategy and delivery. She leads a multidisciplinary team that conducts and enables research, fostering collaborative, open, creative and inclusive working where people and research flourish. Research at TNA brings people together across areas of expertise, within the organisation and in the wider, international research and cultural heritage communities. Pip's own practice is in interdisciplinary digital scholarship, focusing on archive and library collections. In a previous role she directed the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School, and established and led the Bodleian Libraries’ Centre for Digital Scholarship.

Thomas Marks is a writer and art critic. He is currently an Associate Fellow at the Warburg Institute, London, where he is researching Elizabeth David's collection of historical cookery books, and was Editor of Apollo from 2013-21. He has contributed to numerous publications, among them Prospect, Literary Review and the TLS, and continues to write a monthly column for Apollo about the relationship between art and food. Marks is a trustee of Art UK, the cultural education charity that exists to democratise the UK's public art through digitisation and storytelling.
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