MACEDO, R. Contemporary Art Challenges to Conservation, 2006

Posted on Wed, 10/29/2008 - 07:11

Artistic Intent, Integrity and Authenticity in the Preservation of Portuguese Art of the 60’s and 70’s.

Doctoral Research Project by Rita Macedo
Department of Conservation and Restoration, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal
Supervisors: Prof. Raquel Henriques da Silva; Prof. Ana Isabel Seruya
Expected date of completion: December 2006

In the second half of the 20th century art works are made of fragile, ephemeral materials and conservation problems appear at an early stage. Moreover, from the 1960s onwards new art forms appear and spread such as installations and performances based on variable media. Their authenticity could be easily questioned due to the incomprehension of the nature of these art works. The paradigm of contemporary art changed after the ‘60s, but conservation ethics and principles were designed for artworks with problems very different from those raised by more recent works. How can conservation ethics adjust to the needs of contemporary art preservation?
The bibliography on contemporary art conservation asserts the need to record the artist’s intent, but following the artist’s intent may cause conflict with institutional policies and ethical principles of conservation. And other questions arise: can the authenticity of the art work be established by its own creator? Is it possible to reconcile the perspectives of the curator, the artist and the conservator?

Art works of 8 Portuguese living artists of the generation of the 1960/70s, who were among the first in Portugal to work with non-traditional materials, are chosen as case stories. These artists, who use different media and materials, from the object to the performance and the installation, will be interviewed about some of their works. Whenever possible these interviews seek to record materials, techniques, creative processes, installation instructions as well as the artists’ opinions regarding ageing and the option of replacing original material. Artists are also asked about situations in which they had to deal with conservation problems.
Most of these artists have a significant number of art works in public collections and museums. These art works, mostly created 30 or 40 years ago, were exhibited in retrospective exhibitions and it was necessary to perform conservation-restoration interventions, re-installation or reconstitution. Therefore, the museum approach, where applicable, will be analysed through interviews with museum directors and exhibition curators concerning the oeuvre of these artists and the policies adopted for their preservation.


  • Collect information about the selected works with respect to materials, techniques, and creative processes.
  • Collect information on the artists’ perspective about the physical condition of their artworks.
  • Identify the conservation/preservation issues that occur in different types of artworks (objects, installations, performances)
  • Problematise notions such as artist’s intent and authenticity of an art work and relate them to a more general view on the ethics of conservation and restoration.
  • Evaluate the answer of the responsible entities concerning the challenges posed by the conservation of contemporary art.
  • With this information, I plan to formulate and problematise a series of ethical and theoretical issues associated with the challenges that contemporary art poses to the subject of conservation.

  • Bibliographic survey of publications relating to conservation of contemporary art and art history of the 20th century.
  • Survey of documents, periodical publications, interviews, exhibition catalogs and monographic studies of the selected artists in archives and libraries.
  • Survey of these artists’ works included in public collections, cataloging records and possible conservation/restoration reports.
  • Selection of a series of works for each artist (3-4), about which he or she will be interviewed.
  • Preparation of the questionnaire. Each questionnaire is designed with a variable part intended for each artist and each work, and a fixed part which is the same for all the artists.
  • Interviews with the artists.
  • Interviews with museum directors that have works by the selected artists.
  • Interviews with curators responsible for the organization of anthological exhibitions or retrospective exhibitions of these artists.

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