To speak of “restoration” in relation to contemporary art seems almost oxymoronic. On the one hand, it is commonly assumed that the art produced in our own time is still too new to need conservation. On the other hand, with some artists deliberately seeking change or decay in their art through the use of perishable or unstable materials, the conceptual assumptions and technical practices governing conservation and restoration are being subjected to fascinating new challenges.
Mass-produced objects, bread, beans, blood, excrement (human and animal), garbage, seeds, leaves, moving gears, lights and scents are just some of the materials that a restorer of contemporary art has to deal with. These wear out, grow rusty or moldy, fade, ferment, become infested by insects, stall, dry out. Each work of contemporary art is unique and unrepeatable—and consequently so is each intervention made by a conservator.
Questions of how to conserve these kinds of artworks—and to what ends—have a critical bearing on how contemporary art is seen and understood. But the peculiarities of restoring contemporary art have received relatively little exploration or theorization outside of the technical conservation literature. Featuring interviews with curators and artists such as Roberto Cuoghi and Massimiliano Gioni, Art Work: Conserving and Restoring Contemporary Art fills this gap, inviting readers to explore how conservation practices are shaping the nature of the contemporary art object.