I was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne at the weekend and I happened to go to the Baltic in Gateshead where the 2011 Turner prize is being held. After 30 minutes queuing, I finally got in and was shown into 4 rooms, one dedicated to each of the shortlisted artists. As a conservator, I could not help but think about certain issues associated with the conservation of Contemporary Art.
The work of Karla Black, a Scottish born and one of the shortlisted artist, was particularly interesting to me in relation to the approach a conservator should have regarding her work. Her pieces on cellophane (you can see at the back of the picture below) I found particularly challenging as the paint she has applied on is obviously peeling off and flaking away.
I would imaging she is aware of the fact and desires this reaction to happen as part of her creating process. But how is this affecting and influencing her artistic ideas? Is she aware of the extent of the degradation of the material she is using? Is it disrupting the visual intentions? Does she intent people to walk on the coloured chalk scattered around her paper sculptures? And what would she want a conservator to do about it?
In their book “The Challenge of Installation Art” Glenn Wharton and Harvey Molotch say that when working on Contemporary Art a conservator should be aware of the context of the installation, the varying and changing values of the piece and its physical transformations. But all this can evolve quickly and the question is to know which angle is most appropriate for each artwork at a given time. When an Artist is still alive, the question can be put directly to him/her. We must not forget that artists may have answered the question in previous interview or gave precise guidelines. However, is this always the best way to go about it? Artists, collectors can change their minds, conservation attitude is constantly evolving. Our code of ethic states that if there is a conflict, the conservator should always resolve it in a way that is consistent with his/her respect to the object.
In conclusion, we should always put the art work above, respect the artist’s intents and yet carry out conservation work that is “ethical” to us.
The turner prize winner will be announced on the 5th of December 2011. Best of luck to all 4 shortlisted artists. And I would like to remind you that Derry might be hosting the 2013 Turner Prize as part of 2013-UK City of Culture. This would be an amazing opportunity to develop the contemporary Art Scene in the region.