Monday, October 31, 2016

Please be aware that this art work is being taped

Museum conservators are not big on change. The moment an artwork hits a public collection the goal is to keep it in suspended animation from then on. If that painting by Gordon Walters gets a scuff on it, action must be taken. Just as in Peter Pan’s Neverland, in the world of art museum collections nothing must ever grow old. Ok, that was all very well with your basic oil painting and bronze sculpture but with contemporary art and installations, it gets more complicated.

We saw a classic example of how far the museum profession will go to try and stop time (#tellittokingcanute) at Te Papa last week. The l budd installation Modern arrangements had been installed as part of Nga toi. It consists of three painted stools, a magazine rack and a large Xeroxed sheet of paper gaffer taped to the wall. Or that was how the artist always installed it but in this version it looked as though the tape on the Xerox was sitting rather oddly and getting closer we could see why. Clearly Te Papa’s conservation team had had a struggle with simply taping the Xerox so they’d come up with their own version. They’d carefully attached the Xeroxed sheet of paper to the wall with archival tape and then covered it over with a fake gaffer-tape hinge.  The effect, while comically laborious, is hardly truth-to-materials, or to the artist’s intention for that matter. Why would a team of professionals consider such artifice ok when it compromises the material directness of the work?

It's possible the only reason Modern arrangements is showing at all is because the previous l budd work that occupied the same space is being ‘rested’. That work featured incandescent bulbs, already banned in many countries, and the bane of conservators’ lives as they try to source replacements and work out how many hours are left in the originals. 

But one day the lights will go out and then what’s a conservator to do?

Image: l budd  Modern arrangements and right detail