Daniel Grant takes a fascinating look at what happens to contemporary work when it begins to fall apart. His Wall Street Journal story looks at the artist’s responsibility toward collectors. Further down, Grant gives us a tour of work that hasn’t been able to withstand the aging process:
Artists’ experimenting with materials is only one reason contemporary art may not hold up even in the short-run. Another is that the training of artists nowadays rarely includes educating them about the properties of the materials they use. Sometimes, artists shortchanged their own art because of a lack of money, a problem not unique to artists alive today. Early in their careers, Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siquieros and French cubist Fernand Léger both painted on burlap sacks, while Marc Chagall made designs on bed sheets and Franz Kline worked on cardboard. And sometimes the artists simply lacked the technical know-how to make their art last.
In 1995 the Museum of Modern Art purchased the complete set of Cindy Sherman’s 1977-80 untitled film stills, considered some of the most important photographs produced in the contemporary era. Nowhere on the accompanying labels or on its Web site does the museum acknowledge that these prints were run off at the time of the purchase from the old negatives, because many of the original black-and-whites had been processed carelessly, resulting in severe color shifts and fading. “When people bring in an early work that’s technically all wrong — it’s turned silver or something — we print out another one,” said Janelle Reiring, director of Sherman’s gallery, Metro Pictures.
And Grant tells this interesting anecdote about Frank Stella who refuses to get involved a work that is more than two or three years old. It’s not that Stella doesn’t care; he just doesn’t feel he has any competence:
He uses different materials for specific works and, “after two or three years, I don’t have any of the materials left over. I don’t have the expertise to deal with it; if I were to attempt a repair, I’d make a mess of it.”
Asking the Artist for a Do-Over (Wall Street Journal)