Creative expression using the abundant availability of technologically advanced materials has contributed to an artistic evolution. This has seen contemporary artists evolve through the traditional to the avant-garde to the visionary. Our modern expectations for new stimulation and exploration entice artists to use abstract materials in unique ways. It has redefined the interpretation of not only what is made, but why and how it is created. We applaud the way materials are employed as much as the final outcome; similar to an inventive chef who uses scientific methods to re-texture ingredients for a new culinary palette. As with a fine meal, the achievement of creative exploration often culminates in a transitory existence for much of our contemporary art.
A present-day conservators relationship with an object extends beyond scientific knowledge of material construction and the effects of aging or external events; it includes a continually evaluated ethic and a philosophy that an object is more than its visual aesthetic value. An objects construction is an intrinsic component of its artistic integrity. Some challenges of contemporary art are an inherent fragility caused by deterioration and incompatibility of materials, fading paints and inks, darkening resins and fractured plastics, and the effects of pollution and exposure to harmful environments. A conservator endeavours to achieve balance in a problematic situation so as to slow the path of deterioration.
Sometimes the purpose of an artwork can actually contribute to its demise as in a Rauschenberg artwork consisting of images on stretched silk with faucets directing water into a bucket placed upon a steel platform. The dilemma: the bucket was being damaged by the force of the water and leakage threatened the artwork. The quandary: the water and its sound are essential to the experience of the artwork and their function was endangering the piece. The selected remedy: localized conservation treatment and collaboration with the artist to fabricate a new bucket which preserved the art and originality of the artist.
Exterior works and environmental art also have distinctive challenges as illustrated by Robert Smithsons Spiral Jetty at Great Salt Lake, Utah. It is endangered by natural threats, mining, and oil exploration. The now deceased artist believed in accepting natures changes to his earthwork art, but should these changes include the impact of human activity? Deterioration of the Spiral Jetty creates many questions whether or not to restore the jetty? And if so, will it retain its concept, but lose its artistic integrity and be devalued because its original materials are altered? Is adulteration better than losing the art altogether or, should it be permitted to degrade into non-existence. Are artists responsible for the deterioration of their work?
Some challenges of contemporary art originate in the vastness of its invention and meaning. A conservator deliberates many angles and questions when endeavouring to preserve without reinterpretation or remaking artistic history classic or contemporary.
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