Institute of Archaeology


Ellen Pavey

Making the Invisible Visible in the Contemporary Art Museum


Email:  ellen.pavey.18@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Heritage Studies


Making the Invisible Visible in the Contemporary Art Museum

The project will problematize the proposition that greater transparency, and by turn greater inclusivity, can be achieved through making visible the currently invisible processes of museums. Undertaken as an AHRC funded collaborative doctoral partnership, the research will be conducted primarily at Tate, and will focus on the work of the Conservation and Collection Care teams with the aim of developing new theoretical perspectives through which to examine the potential benefits and hazards (for museums and audiences) of bringing into public view these previously hidden processes.

It is through their holdings that museums build their identity, operate as educational institutions and, ultimately, justify their existence; collections are the locus around which the public and institution meet through exhibitions and displays. Yet the mechanisms of care and maintenance that preserve these collections, the processes and expertise that determine their acquisition and interpretation, and their physical storage systems, are often opaque and off limits to audiences. Finding a means to ‘open up’ the work of collection care and conservation – to make ‘visible’ – could have the potential to confront this power imbalance and address the boundaries between institution and audiences that perpetuate exclusionary museum practices. This project will identify for the first time the processes and points of invisibility that are specific to the context of a contemporary art museum (as distinct from other types museums) and the stakes of ‘making visible’ in this type of institution. By considering the implications of making visible for both the institution and its visitors, and analysing these experiences in tandem, this research will provide a uniquely expansive exploration of what it means to make previously hidden processes public. The results of this research will provide valuable insight into the appetite amongst museum visitors for increased access to currently invisible museum processes; will examine the extent to which increased visibility might result in greater inclusivity; and subsequently assess the risks involved with implementing lasting changes to enable greater visibility.




  • BA, History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2011
  • MA, History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2012
  • Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellow, Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, 2017-2018

Pavey, E 2018. ‘Politics in Matter’, Omnipresence exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, 29-35.