Advice Conceptual Art

"In Conceptual Art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand, and the execution is a perfunctory affair." -   LeWitt, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" (1967)

The term conceptual art is derived from the art movement of the same name from the 1960s and 1970s. The idea behind conceptual art is sometimes more important than the artwork’s physical execution. There are also works of art made before and after this period with the same characteristics: think of Marcel Duchamp's ‘readymades’, for example. To distinguish between the art movement and the work/s of art made with a similar theory in mind, we prefer the term "art with a conceptual character". This definition leaves room for a broader interpretation: in some cases, hybrid works of art and art made from organic materials can also be classified under this term. This type of art presents many challenges for restoration and preservation. Art Salvage's modern art restorer can support you with the problems these works pose.

Western restoration ethics is mainly focused on the material of the object. The basic principles focus on reversibility, minimal intervention and authenticity. Keeping this in mind, the focus is then on preserving the physical integrity of the object for the future. However, this mindset is too restrictive for some types of heritage. This also applies to conceptual art: the meaning sometimes outweighs the preservation of the material. We can illustrate this with the thought experiment: "The Ship of Theseus". Theseus has a ship. This ship is subject to wear and tear, and the parts are replaced piece by piece. One hundred years later, the last original part is replaced, so the material on the ship is no longer original. Is it still the 'original' ship? Is the material or concept of the ship more important?

Art with a conceptual character poses many dilemmas in the field of conservation and restoration. How do you maintain a concept when you have artwork material to work with? How do you preserve a work of art where degradation is part of the concept of the work of art? Solutions to these problems can be different. In some cases, an artist's intention is for a work to disappear, so preservation even goes against the intended nature of the work. If the artist is still alive, an artist interview can provide many new insights about intention, ageing processes and materials/techniques used. In practice, each work of art with a conceptual character is unique and requires a different approach based on ethical principles.

Because most art with a conceptual character is relatively young, complex situations concerning ownership sometimes arise. Who decides whether the material of the artwork may be replaced? If the artist is still alive, an interview can sometimes be conducted for restoration. When the artist dies, the question often arises as to who has the authority to make decisions about the treatment and presentation of the works. The restorer must, therefore, always carefully check what is laid down in the legal contracts.

Art Salvage's modern and contemporary art restorer can assist you with the various issues mentioned above. Based on multidisciplinary research into the intention of the artist, ethical and legal aspects and, of course, the work of art itself, advice is drawn up for the preservation and treatment. An essential part of this is expertise in artist interviews because, in theory, the most information can be extracted from this. If the artist is unavailable or has passed away, relatives and friends can still be consulted.

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