Modern and Contemporary Art

Modern and contemporary art presents complex practical, ethical, and philosophical conservation issues. The seemingly limitless range of materials used by artists can leave the conservator of contemporary art hard pressed in many cases to find well-tested conservation materials for a treatment, and conservators often have to undertake remedial treatments that have not been fully evaluated. This problem is intensified with materials that are inherently unstable, and when there is a low tolerance for any sign of aging on the part of the owner or artist, intervention may be required comparatively early in the life of the object.

Ethical dilemmas concerning the conservation and care of contemporary art have led to uncertainty in the art world. For example, an artist’s wish to refabricate a deteriorated work to recapture the object’s original appearance challenges conservation ethics on reversibility and conservation of original materials. Similarly, replacing obsolete technological elements of a technology-based work raises questions of how closely such a work now reflects the original, both materially and intellectually, and what role conservation plays in making that determination.

From the outset, the Getty Conservation Institute has adopted a broad approach to its involvement in this area, developing a range of focused research projects with a number of partners and establishing a comprehensive strategy for information dissemination and sharing—vital for making the research and thought accessible to the field.

Current projects include:

Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces
Conservation of Plastics in Museum Collections
Modern and Contemporary Art Research
Surface Treatment Strategies for Outdoor Painted Sculpture

Banner image: View of the in-process work Kitchen Amazon by Alison Saar, taken in 2019. ©Alison Saar.