Mortality Immortality? The Legacy of 20th-Century Art (1998)
For who is contemporary art produced? Is it important that it survive beyond our time? Is it our responsibility to ensure that works of contemporary art remain for future generations? Which objects or events will define the art of our time? Who will decide what is to be preserved for posterity and how to preserve it? If an artist chooses ephemeral materials, should the work be allowed to deteriorate?
These were among the questions posed in this conference on the preservation of contemporary art organized by the Getty Conservation Institute and held at the Getty Center. The three-day conference brought together professionals from a range of disciplines—artists, museum directors, curators, conservators, art historians, dealers, collectors, and scientists, as well as a philosopher and a lawyer—to offer their individual perspectives on the intent of the artist, the effect of the art market, ways to cope with rapidly evolving media technologies, and fine art as popular culture.
In a session entitled "Present and Future Perceptions," participants considered such issues as the definition of artists' materials. Since today anything and everything can be incorporated into a work of art, especially in installations, has the use of so many different materials changed our perception of art and whether or not we need to preserve it? In the "The Challenge of Materials" session, participants examined the implications of artists abandoning traditional materials to create a legacy of our time, especially media artists working with rapidly-evolving technology soon to become obsolete. "The Art Ecosystem" session examined the roles of artist, dealer, collector, curator, and conservator in the history of an art object. A session entitled "Who is Responsible?" considered how responsibility for the preservation of contemporary art should be determined. Who will decide what is to be done?
Through an examination of the philosophical, ethical, art-historical, economic and technological factors associated with the preservation of contemporary art, the conference sought to assess the survival of our cultural legacy. Since we understand our past through fragments—fragments of objects and fragments of information—what are the dangers of misinterpretation if only fragments of works of contemporary art remain in the future?
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