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Between Concept and Material

Working with Conceptual Art: A Conservator’s Testimony

dr. S. (Sanneke) Stigter

Assistant Professor

This study focuses on the challenges, practices and dilemmas of working with conceptual art through the lens of conservation. Conceptual art challenges the traditional idea of art conservation. Critical of its own material form, conceptual art negates the unique material object in art, celebrating the idea in art instead. But how to preserve a concept when you have material to work with?

The complex relation between concept and material unfolds at decisive moments in the lives of conceptual artworks, when their appearance is being negotiated. This exposes key concepts in conservation theory, such as authenticity, artist intent and minimal intervention. These will be explored in theory and practice with reference to artworks that underwent significant changes over time, including Ger van Elk’s wall sculpture Roquebrune (1979), his site-related photowork The wider the flatter (1972), Joseph Kosuth’s object based installation Glass (one and three), and Jan Dibbets' variable installation All shadows that occurred to me in … (1968).

Central to this study is the artwork in physical transition. This is studied by close observations of practices at the work floor in a combined approach using ethnographic research methods, archival research and detailed analyses of the artwork's themselves. 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 expressed in a conservator’s testimony.

Supervisors

Prof. dr. Julia Noordegraaf, University of Amsterdam
Prof. dr. Deborah Cherry, University of Amsterdam
Dr. Ella Hendriks, University of Amsterdam
Dr. Glenn Wharton, New York University

Project Partners

New Strategies in the Conservation of Contemporary Art
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

PhD defence

UvA-DARE

Interview