Inherent vice, also known as inherent fault, is the tendency in an object or material to deteriorate or self-destruct because of its intrinsic internal characteristics, including weak construction, poor quality or unstable materials, and incompatibility of different materials within an object. –American Institute for Conservation (2021)
This project was born of conversations about how we as conservators and curators can make behind-the-scenes work more accessible. Though museums typically present meticulously mounted garments in clean, well-lit galleries, their storage closets are full of shattered silk, degraded net, and corroded beads—all examples of inherent vice.
In the summer of 2021, we started a discussion about what to do with 31 extremely degraded garments. We could leave them in storage, too fragile to teach from or exhibit; pour resources into stabilizing them; or look at them as openings for new understandings. With the board’s approval, we began the process of deaccessioning, formally removing these garments from the collection and transferring them to RISD’s Apparel Department for student use. Several of these works were recently displayed in their decaying state in this space.
A wintersession 2022 course explored the topic of inherent vice. In the spring, an apparel studio class offered students the chance to dissect the garments, while a textile silkscreen class created new work in response to the prompt “hidden stories.” The students’ artwork is presented here with a selection of deaccessioned garments.
The deaccessioned garments’ damage is a mixed blessing. We wouldn’t have had these conversations if they weren’t falling apart. In storage, these pieces would have continued deteriorating; now they have been preserved digitally, considered deeply, and transformed creatively.
Kate Irvin, Curator of Costume and Textiles Anna Rose Keefe, Assistant Conservator of Costume and Textiles Jessica Urick, Associate Conservator of Costume and Textiles
RISD Museum is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and with the generous partnership of the Rhode Island School of Design, its Board of Trustees, and Museum Governors