Lydia Beerkens – Side by Side: old and new standards in the conservation of modern art. A comparative study on 20 years of modern art conservation practice

Lydia Beerkens presented the third paper in the conference on Monday morning with an overview of how conservation standards and practice have evolved over the past 100 years, since contemporary art has started to appear in our galleries and museums. Moreover, Beerkens states that the conservation of such materials opens up so many conservation issues including those of materials, techniques, concepts, ethics and aesthetics. Beerkens' experience suggested that many objects are brought to her initially for superficial treatment, but upon closer inspection appear to have major issues. I sat there asking myself if we should therefore be looking at the collection care of these pieces, having a more rigorous approach during condition assessment before acquisition to understand the materials and construction, so we are aware of the collections within our workplaces and their needs.

Beerkens used the example of a glass bottle sculpture by McCarthy against a modern oil painting to compare how the techniques are beginning to vary drastically from that of ‘traditional’ conservation techniques. She went on to state that we need more information about the meaning and significance of a work, and this is the perfect opportunity to gain this information when the artist is still alive, giving the conservator the opportunity to prepare for its future time in a collection. This, alongside research from parallel disciplines such as philosophy, science and ‘traditional’ methods, and with the use of a curator allows conservators to find an out-of-the box solution to deal with conservation ethics in a new way.

Once the floor was opened up to questions, the majority of questions interlinked with the idea of the object's history, Beerkens argued that any influence and decisions made regarding an artwork, from social media to decision making, become part of the object history, enriching its knowledge and meaning. Moreover this, this information becomes part of the object's timeline from creation to display, and the value of the object is therefore interlinked with this.

Post by: Sarah Potter