5 Questions: Michelle Barger

This summer, we’re taking our Five Questions series around the office and finding out more about SFMOMA staff members and what’s changed for them now that we’re under construction. Today we’re talking to Michelle Barger, Deputy Head of Conservation.


Please describe your job in three sentences or less:

As Deputy Head of Conservation, I am an objects conservator by training. I look out for the care and preservation of sculpture in the collection. This can be a blurry line in contemporary art, as artists work in many mediums that don’t necessarily fall into neat categories like painting, sculpture, drawing, or photography. Along with Jill Sterrett, Director of Collections and Conservation, I also manage the Conservation Department. A big part of this role is creative and collaborative problem solving.

What are you thinking about now that you weren’t thinking about before the museum closed?

Outfitting our new space. Now that the collections move is completed, we are shifting our attention to equipping our new work space and making it functional during the closure. What’s cool is that we are planning to make this space a conservation center for large-scale objects once we move back into the building.  We have outdoor sculpture in the collection, like the Calder sculptures and the big bronze pieces that were in the Rooftop Garden, which will need to be treated and don’t fit into conservation studios so easily.

Do you collect anything?

I used to collect appliances. I had a big toaster collection. Now I have a small collection of Toastmasters, but I am not currently adding to it. My husband and I also collect tiles when we are traveling.

If you could spend an afternoon with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

Someone asked me this question in 3rd grade and I said Harriet Tubman—I think I have to say that I still stand by that answer.

What’s your favorite tool? Why?

I love a pair of nice sharp scissors. When I graduated from college, or maybe it was high school, one of my good friends’ parents gave me a pair of Fiskars scissors. I just loved them.

If you weren’t Deputy Head of Conservation what would your gig be?

I’ve always wished that I had a really beautiful voice. Not that I really want to be an opera singer or rock star, but it would be nice to have the power to move people with my voice. I’m so blown away by people who have that confidence when they are up on stage.

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