The Panza Collection Initiative

Giuseppe and Giovanna Panza on the grounds of the Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza, Varese, 1985

In 2010, with the support of a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum launched an ambitious initiative to address the long-term preservation and future exhibition of artworks of the 1960s and 1970s. Led by curator and scholar Jeffrey Weiss and conservator Francesca Esmay, the Panza Collection Initiative (PCI) is focused on the extensive collection of Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, and Conceptual art that the museum acquired from Italian collector Giuseppe Panza di Biumo in 1991 and 1992. The goal of the PCI is to ensure that these exceptional holdings are researched, preserved, and presented to the public with proper consideration for historical context, material integrity, and artistic intention. By evaluating specific cases in the collection, the initiative also aims to develop a broader framework through which to address the long-term sustainability of other variable, ephemeral, or fabrication-based artworks of this era.


With the emergence of new art practices during the 1960s, the nature of art making—and the status of the artwork itself—experienced a dramatic historical shift. In place of existing conventions regarding medium and craft, artists came to substitute industrial materials for traditional ones and delegated fabrication to others. In some cases, the “object” was abandoned altogether in favor of diagrams and texts, instructions for events or projects, and proposed or imagined works. The ramifications were profound: an artwork was no longer necessarily crafted by the artist or given a fixed, permanent form. It could be executed by other hands and reconstituted or re-adapted to different spaces and circumstances, or it could exist solely in the form of a plan, to be produced at a later date.

This shift represents an unusual practical challenge. In spite of the historical significance of Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, and Conceptual art, there is, for the most part, no true consensus on how to address the long-term preservation and display of such work. Traditional curatorial and conservation practices are often inadequate in dealing with art that is ephemeral, variable, or fabrication-based in nature. Further, these unorthodox approaches to art making raise difficult conceptual, ethical, and legal questions regarding authenticity, ownership, and interpretive rights. The lack of a clear methodology for managing these issues has left the fate of many works of the era uncertain; moreover, with the aging of the generation, access to primary information is increasingly limited.

The PCI has addressed this situation by implementing a sequence of individual case studies. During its first three-year phase (2010–13), the PCI focused on the work of five major artists, three living and two deceased: Dan Flavin (b. 1933, Jamaica, New York; d. 1996, Riverhead, New York), Bruce Nauman (b. 1941, Fort Wayne, Indiana), Robert Morris (b. 1931, Kansas City, Missouri), Donald Judd (b. 1928, Excelsior Springs, Missouri; d. 1994, New York), and Lawrence Weiner (b. 1942, Bronx, New York). Together these artists are represented in the Guggenheim Museum’s Panza Collection by a total of 122 works. Each artist’s practice possesses its own demands regarding preservation and display, but the holdings of the five artists’ works also collectively implicate many issues and practices that are broadly at stake for art throughout the period.

The five case studies have been being carried out through a set of consistent procedures: exhaustive archival research; interviews with the artists, artists' estates, fabricators, former assistants, and other relevant parties; and the installation and physical examination of selected works. Central to the process is the close involvement of the Advisory Committee, a group of curators, conservators, and scholars who represent a diverse range of institutions. Serving for the duration of the project, the Advisory Committee has held meetings at the culmination of each case study. These two-day committee meetings have included the firsthand examination of works in the Panza Collection followed by an extensive review and discussion of issues, both practical and philosophical.

The first Advisory Committee meeting took place in July 2011 and focused on the work of Dan Flavin. A second committee meeting, regarding the work of Robert Morris, was held in March 2012. In October 2012, the Advisory Committee convened to look at the work of Donald Judd, and, most recently, in July 2013, the committee studied the work of Bruce Nauman and Lawrence Weiner.

In 2013, the Mellon Foundation awarded the PCI funding for an additional three years (2013–16). The second phase entails the study of two more artists in the Panza collection: Robert Irwin (b. 1928, Long Beach, California) and Doug Wheeler (b. 1939, Globe, Arizona). The PCI is also now in the process of implementing the findings of each of the artist case studies: in particular, this involves treating or fabricating selected artworks and developing new collection management practices appropriate to the nature of the work. Finally, the second phase is committed to disseminating the project’s results: at the end of the study, in 2016, the PCI’s findings, including archival material and a record of the proceedings, will be made available online and a public symposium will be organized at the Guggenheim Museum.

Browse a selection of works from the Panza Collection in the Collection Online.


The Panza Collection Initiative was initially conceived by Carol Stringari, Deputy Director and Chief Conservator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and Nancy Spector, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Stringari and Spector continue to work closely with the dedicated project team.

Jeffrey Weiss
Curator, Panza Collection

Francesca Esmay
Conservator, Panza Collection

Ted Mann
Assistant Curator, Panza Collection

Samantha Small
Curatorial Assistant, Panza Collection


Martha Buskirk
Professor of Art History and Criticism, Montserrat College of Art

Briony Fer
Professor of History of Art, University College London

Ann Goldstein
General Artistic Director, Stedelijk Museum

IJsbrand Hummelen
Senior Researcher, Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage

Tom Learner
Senior Scientist, The Getty Conservation Institute

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro
Director, Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art, Harvard University Art Museums; Associate Director for Conservation and Research, Whitney Museum of American Art

Jill Sterrett
Director of Collections and Conservation, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Tiffany Bell
Former Curator and Archivist, Dan Flavin Studio

James Meyer
Curator, National Gallery of Art

Marianne Stockebrand
Director Emeritus, Chinati Foundation



James Meyer  
Curator, National Gallery of Art



Lynne Cooke
Andrew W. Mellon Professor, Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art

Donna De Salvo
Chief Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art

Giuseppe and Giovanna Panza on the grounds of the Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza, Varese, 1985. Photo © Giorgio Colombo, Milan

The Panza Collection

Panza Collection

Over three hundred fifty works of Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, and Conceptual art

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