On the 29th of June 2016, Sanneke Stigter, AHM PhD candidate, defended her dissertation entitled 'Between Concept and Material. Working with Conceptual Art: A Conservator’s Testimony', supervised by Prof. Deborah Cherry and Prof. Julia Noordegraaf and co-supervisors Dr Ella Hendriks and Dr Glenn Wharton (NYU).
Conceptual art challenges the idea of traditional art conservation. How can one preserve a concept when there is material to work with? Should this be done through keeping the material, even when it no longer conveys the message? Or through working with artist interviews or artist participation, despite the challenge of potentially conflicting viewpoints? Or through documentation, and if so: how? This study explores these various approaches taken, assessing conceptual artworks through the lens of conservation in a museum context. It presents original research material, including many personal interviews and findings from participatory practice, casting new light on iconic artworks from Ger van Elk, Joseph Kosuth, and Jan Dibbets, each representing different types of conceptual art.
Three claims are made that differ from what is generally believed or accepted in traditional conservation theory and the idea of conceptual art: a conceptual artwork’s materiality is more meaningful than thought; the installation process can be considered a form of conservation; and such processes are valuable research tools and dynamic sources for technical art history. This means that the traditional object-based approach in conservation is enriched by process-based research, acknowledging the inevitability of personal input through methods imported from the social sciences. An autoethnographic approach is proposed as a new research tool in conservation, introducing a conservator’s testimony, which encourages continuous critical thinking both about the way conceptual artworks continue their lives over time, and instigates an inherent reflexive stance on the part of the conservator, which is of larger significance for the profession of conservation in general.
More information about and download of Sanneke's PhD can be found at the digital repository on the University of Amsterdam: