January 24, 2008

When looking at a complex contemporary sculpture, one of the first questions that comes to mind is: How was this made? In this panel, three of the leading artists in the world today—Rachel Harrison, Paul McCarthy, and Doris Salcedo—discussed the production of their work with curator Elisabeth Sussman and conservator Christian Scheidemann. The artists took us step-by-step through the creative process, from the materials they chose to work with, through decisions on what to make in the studio and what to have fabricated, to the intricate processes of assembly.

The discussion focused not only on past decisions, but on the artists' future goals for their works. What did they consider acceptable aging, and how aggressively did they want institutions to intervene in conserving their works? In addition to the artists' viewpoints, the panel offered an opportunity to see the very different perspectives and the particular expertises that conservators and curators bring in looking at works of art.

Some of the broad questions the panel addressed were: Given the ephemeral nature of many modern materials in use today, how do the choices artists make affect the future survival of their own works? And, because there is no standard method for conserving works using new materials, what challenges are created for conservators and art historians who seek to study and preserve them for the future?

About the Panelists

Rachel Harrison
Rachel Harrison's work draws on a wide range of influences, combining both art historical and pop culture references. Each of her works features a slightly different combination of sculptural, painterly, and photographic elements as well as a variety of materials ranging from Styrofoam to papier-mâché, plywood to cement. Harrison's work has been featured in many international exhibitions, including Rachel Harrison: Voyage of the Beagle at the Nuremberg Kunsthalle in 2007 and New Work: Rachel Harrison at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art in 2004–2005.

Paul McCarthy
Paul McCarthy is an influential and groundbreaking West Coast artist. He is known for his raw, often disturbing works, which range in scale from monumental to intimate and incorporate a wide variety of media including photography, painting, performance, sculpture, video, installation, drawing, and painting. Recent exhibitions of his work include Paul McCarthy—Caribbean Pirates at Whitechapel in 2006 and Paul McCarthy at Tate Modern in 2003.

Doris Salcedo
Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo draws on domestic items and organic materials such as furniture, clothing, bone, and human hair to evoke intensely personal, bodily experiences. Her often fragile sculptures and installations reference the shared experiences of trauma, memory, survival, and healing in Colombia and around the world. Salcedo's work has been shown internationally in exhibitions such as The Unilever Series: Doris Salcedo: Shibboleth currently on view at Tate Modern and Doris Salcedo at White Cube in London in 2007.

Christian Scheidemann
Conservator Christian Scheidemann is at the forefront of contemporary art conservation. Over the last 25 years he has collaborated with curators and collectors across Europe and the United States as well as artists as diverse as Robert Morris, Cindy Sherman, Elaine Sturtevant, On Kawara, Jason Rhodes, and Roy Lichtenstein. Since the late 1980s, he has worked closely with artists Robert Gober, Matthew Barney, and Paul McCarthy on the research, development, and materials for their works.

Elisabeth Sussman, moderator
Elisabeth Sussman is Curator and Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The exhibition Gordon Matta-Clark: You Are the Measure, which she organized for the Whitney, is on tour at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, through January 7, 2008. Sussman is currently co-curating a retrospective of the work of William Eggleston, and has recently co-curated two exhibitions on the work of Eva Hesse. She is the author of many publications, including the book Lisette Model (Phaidon, 2001) and catalogue essays on Robert Gober and Lee Bontecou.