Between Concept and Material. Working with Conceptual Art: A Conservator’s Testimony

Sanneke Stigter, specialisation Contemporary Art

researchBetween Concept-and-Material-2Conceptual art challenges the idea of traditional art conservation. Critical of its own material form, conceptual art seems to negate the unique material object in art, celebrating the idea instead. But how to preserve a concept when you have material to work with?

This study focuses on the challenges, practices and the impact of the conservation of conceptual art. The complex relation between concept and material manifestation in these works becomes clear at decisive moments aimed at reassuring the continuity of their lives. It turns out that their appearance is negotiated during various museum processes, such as acquisition procedures, reinstallation moments, artist interventions and also during conservation treatments and even artist interviews. To explore key issues of traditional conservation in conceptual art, such as notions of authenticity, reversibility and minimal intervention, different artworks are examined that underwent significant changes over time, either unnoticed, intended or imposed on them by different stakeholders on varying grounds.

Selected case studies are examined as part of museum practices through the conservator’s lens. Past and also future conservation strategies are designed and performed as part of the project. These include Ger van Elk’s sculptural and painted work Roquebrune (1979), his site-specific sculpture The wider the flatter (1972), Joseph Kosuth’s object based site-specific installation Glass (one and three) and Jan Dibbet’s performed site-specific installation All shadows that occurred to me in … (1968).

researchBetween Concept-and-MaterialCentral to this study is the artwork in physical transition. The artwork’s manifestations are followed by close observations of practices at the work floor, combined by archival research, oral history and ethnographic research methods. The aim is to both define the role of the contemporary art conservator in safeguarding conceptual art, and to develop a reflexive approach in conservation, introducing an analytical view towards the constructed nature of decision-making in a conservator’s testimony.

For more information please go to: UvA-DARE

Back to past PhD projects