Catching Up With:
Melissa Curley

This week, we're catching up with Melissa Curley, photographer and studio manager at Modern Art Conservation, a studio in Chelsea that specializes in museum-quality conservation and restoration of modern artworks. We couldn't wait to hear more about Melissa's work at the studio, though we will warn you that she has passed the confidentiality test. Read on for more! 

Tell us more about what Modern Art Conservation does, and the kinds of projects the studio works on.
We specialize in the conservation of modern and contemporary paintings. We work with private collectors and dealers, museums, artists and auction houses. Working with modern and contemporary art has its own special challenges because of the variety of media we encounter. Technically speaking, we are a paintings conservation studio, but recently the world of painting has shifted to include challenging media; think breakfast cereal, poured graphite, chewing gum, loose pigment, you name it. We also have a contracted objects conservator who helps us with sculpture restoration and a former employee of the Warhol Foundation who stretches paintings for us.

The studio. Image courtesy of Modern Art Conservation.


How is working in a conservation studio different from working in a gallery, for example? What are the unique considerations that need to be taken when documenting conservation?
We do not display art. The approach is much different in a conservation studio in that our job is to protect the artwork and improve condition, rather than to profit from art sales. We avoid all of the less palatable aspects of the commercial art world, while benefitting from getting to handle and spend quality time with other people's stuff. This comes with a lot of responsibility, but equally we get to learn a lot in a very hands-on way.


What is the most interesting project you've seen come through?
This is the question I get most often. Confidentiality is, unfortunately for this interview, one of the most important aspects of art conservation. Sharing that a work has been heavily restored can have a major impact on it's value, both art historically and monetarily, so sadly I am sworn to secrecy! What I can tell you is that we regularly restore very high-value works (objects that have recently sold at auction for many millions) which have seen damage that initially appears to be irreversible. Seeing a masterpiece come in that has been sitting in a watery basement, or fell victim to a catastrophic house fire is never easy as an art-lover. We are lucky that we have incredibly talented and experienced conservators who can bring these artworks back to life.

The studio. Image courtesy of Modern Art Conservation.


LIVES IN   West Harlem

WORKS IN   Chelsea

OCCUPATION   Photographer and Studio Manager

We usually start off with a morning meeting of sorts. We go over priority projects and talk about what photography needs doing. Every project is different, so it's good to have lots of discussion. I photograph artworks upon arrival to document how they are packed, and then before, during and after treatment. We do this for insurance purposes and to show the changes we have made. We keep the client up to date with the progress of the restoration by showing them before, during and after shots.

The Neue Galerie is really something special, a great mix of fine and decorative art in-situ. I love visiting art collections that give me a break from the 21st century. I also love visiting auction sale previews. It's a unique opportunity to see works that are not typically available to the public.

Images courtesy of Modern Art Conservation.

ALBUM   I've recently been revisiting my ballet days. I'm a big believer in classical music while riding the subway; it makes New York feel a little less stressful. Ennio Morricone film scores are great.

ARTIST  Francis Bacon

FILM   Most recently, Wild

BOOK   Londoners


Left: Frank Stella at the Whitney; Right: Francis Bacon at Christie's. Images from @Melissa_Curley, Instagram.


EATS   Cajun anything

LATEST PURCHASE   baking ingredients

GUILTY PLEASURE   obscure iPhone emojis


36 HOURS   See a ballet/teleport to London.

SUGARLIFT PICK   Jay Riggio, feels like a fresh take on Dadaist principals




I'm feeling inspired!

Start a project