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Walton Stepping Down as Co-Director of Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts

Marc Walton will be stepping down as Co-Director of the Art Institute of Chicago / Northwestern University Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (the Center) at the end of December. He will assume the role of Head of Conservation and Research at the newly opened  M+ Museum in Hong Kong.

Founded in 2012 with a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Center is a field leader in the development and implementation of cross-disciplinary programs of research, teaching, and innovation that use the lens of science to investigate art objects. Center staff advance discoveries through research partnerships with academics and extend the reach of conservation science methodologies to museums and institutions that lack specialized conservation science expertise and equipment.

Since 2013, Marc has led the scientific and administrative efforts of the Center, first as its Senior Scientist and then as co-Director. During Marc’s tenure he built a world-recognized research program in conservation science; established a team of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates, many of whom have assumed premier conservation science positions nationally and internationally; and was awarded external funds amounting to more than $5 million. These include the largest National Science Foundation grant ever awarded to scientific research in cultural heritage, Computationally Based Imaging of Structure in Materials otherwise known as the “CuBISM” project (August 2017–2022), co-Directed with Prof. Kenneth Shull,  also of Northwestern University.

While at the Center, Marc has led and established collaborations with museums and cultural institutions across the world and stewarded numerous initiatives within various departments at Northwestern University, including Materials Science, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Art History, and Anthropology. Supported by the Center’s current associate scientist, Marc Vermeulen, and post-doctoral fellow, Alicia McGeachy, recent and ongoing projects have included an examination of materials and methods of painting from the early modern period in Latin America in collaboration with the Thoma Foundation and the National Museum of Mexican Art, an in-depth investigation of a monumental polychromed della Robbia sculpture at The Cleveland Museum of Art, and investigations into fatty acid blooms found on the surface of the San Francisco Fine Art Museum’s Medardo Rosso wax sculpture.

In addition to these various projects on art spanning a broad range of time and geographic space, over the last eight years Marc’s research has focused on the development and use of computational imaging for art. These investigations have resulted in numerous articles in prestigious journals as well as in popular media on the measurement of surface shape as a diagnostic feature for change in artworks as well as on new computational methods to peer through the layered structure of paintings. These efforts have recently culminated in a pathbreaking study on the digitization of holograms produced in the 70s and 80s using advanced optical methods with the aim of being able to reprint exhibition copies of these information-dense yet fragile objects.

A Senior leadership team has been appointed to steward the Center through this transition period.

Francesca Casadio, Associate Vice President and Grainger Executive Director of Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago and founding co-Director of the Center will work alongside Aggelos Katsaggelos, (Joseph Cummings Professor, Department of ECE (Courtesy CS and Radiology) Northwestern University)  a key partner in innumerable NU-ACCESS projects in computation imaging and newly appointed NU co- Director, and with Erik Luijten, (Associate Dean, McCormick School of Engineering and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University ) in his role as Faculty co-Director and Dean’s office counselor for strategic initiatives. While the team’s initial focus will be to lead an international search to fill the position of Senior Scientist with the Center, this Sr Leadership team will also lay the foundations to ensure the center’s future beyond the duration of the Andrew W. Mellon grant.

Casadio said:

Marc’s vision and boundless energy has built up the Center at Northwestern as a beacon of innovative cross-disciplinary research practices, admired by colleagues in museums and institutions the world over. Northwestern’s leadership in the scientific study of the arts sets an example for other institutions wishing to undertake research and teaching in this interdisciplinary field that captures the imagination of students and large portions of society alike.

The McCormick School of Engineering continues its efforts to raise philanthropic funds to meet the Mellon Foundation’s challenge to endow the position of co-Director of the Center.

We thank Marc for his leadership over the last eight years and wish him luck in his new position.

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