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CURRENT COLUMN

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)


Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)


Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Structural
Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural
Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Digital
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Photos
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

Butterfly
A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events


Conservation Corner Back

Spiral Jetty

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty (1970), Rozel Point Great Salt Lake, Utah (April 1970), mud, precipitated salt crystals, rocks, water / Collection: DIA Center for the Arts, New York / © Estate of Robert Smithson/licensed by VAGA New York NY / Courtesy: James Cohan Gallery / Photo: G Gorgoni

Challenges of Conserving Contemporary Artwork

by Cheryle Harrison
conserv1@telus.net

Creative expression using the abundant availability of technologically advanced materials has contributed to an artistic evolution. This has seen contemporary artists evolve through the traditional to the avant-garde to the visionary. Our modern expectations for new stimulation and exploration entice artists to use abstract materials in unique ways. It has redefined the interpretation of not only what is made, but why and how it is created. We applaud the way materials are employed as much as the final outcome; similar to an inventive chef who uses scientific methods to re-texture ingredients for a new culinary palette. As with a fine meal, the achievement of creative exploration often culminates in a transitory existence for much of our contemporary art.

A present-day conservator’s relationship with an object extends beyond scientific knowledge of material construction and the effects of aging or external events; it includes a continually evaluated ethic and a philosophy that an object is more than its visual aesthetic value. An object’s construction is an intrinsic component of its artistic integrity. Some challenges of contemporary art are an inherent fragility caused by deterioration and incompatibility of materials, fading paints and inks, darkening resins and fractured plastics, and the effects of pollution and exposure to harmful environments. A conservator endeavours to achieve balance in a problematic situation so as to slow the path of deterioration.

Sometimes the purpose of an artwork can actually contribute to its demise as in a Rauschenberg artwork consisting of images on stretched silk with faucets directing water into a bucket placed upon a steel platform. The dilemma: the bucket was being damaged by the force of the water and leakage threatened the artwork. The quandary: the water and its sound are essential to the experience of the artwork and their function was endangering the piece. The selected remedy: localized conservation treatment and collaboration with the artist to fabricate a new bucket which preserved the art and originality of the artist.

Exterior works and environmental art also have distinctive challenges as illustrated by Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty at Great Salt Lake, Utah. It is endangered by natural threats, mining, and oil exploration. The now deceased artist believed in accepting nature’s changes to his earthwork art, but should these changes include the impact of human activity? Deterioration of the Spiral Jetty creates many questions – whether or not to restore the jetty? And if so, will it retain its concept, but lose its artistic integrity and be devalued because its original materials are altered? Is adulteration better than losing the art altogether or, should it be permitted to degrade into non-existence. Are artists responsible for the deterioration of their work?

Some challenges of contemporary art originate in the vastness of its invention and meaning. A conservator deliberates many angles and questions when endeavouring to preserve without reinterpretation or remaking artistic history – classic or contemporary.

Previously: Preserve your investment with art conservation
Next issue: A pictorial relocation project

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 Mon, Jun 7, 2010