Preservation, Conservation, Experimentation with Alternative or Unproven Materials
January 17, 2012
The previous post on ASK Harriete opened issues regarding the use of impermanent materials, long-term preservation, and conservation of artwork (or lack thereof due to unproven materials). The post provoked some very interesting comments.
Now to examine specific issues more closely related to alternative or temporal materials.
Yes, artists should explore unproven materials, testing and rejecting preliminary trials before deciding what merits going into their final work. Alternative or unproven materials convenient for a conceptual test, may or may not be appropriate for the final work of art.
The original patina of Dirk Van Erp Lamps
is essential for the signature appearance
from Dirk Van Erp.
It seems to me that the primary question is the intent of the artist. "Do you want the piece to last . . . or be an ephemeral phenomenon?" Does a time-varying patina add to the piece . . . or is sustained color a critical characteristic? Will aging enhance the work . . . or will disintegration contribute to the conceptual theme?
The expected life and varying condition of artwork is something the artist should knowingly choose and not blithely ignore. What will the work look like 10 minutes later, 10 months, 10 years later, or 10 decades later?
So the issue is not permanence or impermanence in itself, but whether the temporal elements are consistent with the intended conceptual theme of the work. Ten years may be stretching the life expectancy of paper jewelry, but well within the expectation for public art.
Going back to the example in the previous post, I think it is well within normal expectations that a turned wooden bowl has a stable finish (assuming ideal storage and display conditions) for 25 - 50 years, at least. I can not believe that the maker intended for the finish to develop "problems." Thus, going back to the artist for a remedy for an unstable finish may be appropriate.
I also wonder if the applied finish was within the manufacturer's expectation for the medium? Isn't it better to know what will happen than to be ignorant? Was the wooden bowl labeled, "experimental finish?"
Another question comes to mind.
What about storage and maintenance throughout the years? Work owned by a collector in a domestic environment (which is usually exposed to sunlight, and lacking temperature and humidity controls) is a completely different situation than if it was stored in museum storage in a controlled environment. Were there recommendations from the artist that were followed for storage and display?
This leads to the artist's obligation to communicate what is known about materials to a prospective buyer. Clarity about the temporal nature of alternative materials is critical if collectors or museums are buying your work. If you, as the artist, have any concerns, then it would be best to clearly state the situation every time your work is on display or available for sale. A declaration about this fact will protect your work and your reputation.
The next posts in this series are about Preservations, Conservation, & Experimentation with Alternate and Unproven Materials.
- Practical Recommendations for Care, Maintenance, Storage, and Exhibition.
- Design for Repair
- Photo documentation of temporal or alternative materials.
Are there other issues that readers of ASK Harriete are wondering about? Email or comment. What am I missing?
This post was updated on February 18, 2022.