Brian Jungen - Strange Comfort

July 30, 2009


DSCN9694 About a month or so ago, a crocodile, a shark, an emu, a sea eagle, and a possum not of scales, fur, or feather, but of Samsonite plastic luggage were wrangled through the back doors of NMAI’s Mall Museum. In early June, artist Brian Jungen followed. 

Mr. Jungen’s monumental piece Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky), which comprises this menagerie, is a recent acquisition and will be installed in the NMAI rotunda, known as the Potomac, late this summer. The upcoming exhibit Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort, opens at NMAI in October 2009.  From British Columbia with Swiss and Dunne-za First Nations ancestry, Mr. Jungen, a Vancouver resident, paid a visit to the museum in early and late June, and worked with members of the Exhibit Fabrication staff to make some changes to his pieces, improving his aesthetic ideas, facilitating more appropriate hanging. He also attended some meetings.

These blog posts will follow, from a mostly conservation perspective, the ins and outs of the installation of Crux and Strange Comfort.  Some may think that a conservator is just the person you turn to when you find moths have eaten holes in your wool suit collection. Although sometimes this is very much the case, conservation is in fact a confluence of disciplines, sometimes melding high science with ideas of artistic and conceptual significance.  These posts may serve as a platform to feature a variety of topics for discussion; it may, though no promises can be made, discuss inherent vice, rigging, plasticizers, artistic intentions, some common ethical conservation struggles. Possibly contemporary Native art. There may be time-lapse video. 

I am an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the NMAI Conservation Unit. I am a Californian, and like running, reading, and barbecue. I recently completed my graduate degree at the University College London, Institute of Archaeology, specializing in ethnographic objects conservation. During my conservation training, I studied the effects of Indian gaming on the resurgence of Native American cultural heritage and sovereignty; cleaned mold off the walls of a Roman bathhouse in the Cotswolds; researched the history and appropriate conservation of doll’s undergarments; wrapped taxidermy animals in plastic, among other activities. Contemporary art conservation is new for me, but perhaps approaching Samsonite luggage is not really so different from approaching any other media. I hope that if you feel so inclined, you will, from the comfort of this NMAI blog, participate in discussion and witness the installation of this piece and exhibit and all that it may entail.

Comments (5)

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This is *great* stuff. I'm doing a course on Western images of indigenous peoples at the Corcoran College of Art and Design this semester, and only just learned of he Brian Jungen exhibition (it's actually a little hard to find from the NMAI site). He's a favorite of mine.

If you want to see what we're doing, you can find a class blog for one section at: What isn't reflected is the research students will start in a few weeks, looking into associations, lobbying groups, tribal websites, etc., to present information on indigenous peoples in the world today, in conjunction with readings from the past.

I'll be looking for a way to work the Jungen exhibition, and I'll post a link to your blog. Hope we ghet to talk about this at some point.

This sounds pretty original, too bad I cannot see the full collection. :( I am definitely going to look forward to more of his work.

Very nice Site.

This sounds pretty original, too bad I cannot see the full collection. :( I am definitely going to look forward to more of his work.

This is something relevant for art conservation. Thanks to this museum. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to this article. I really appreciate it.