Sunday, March 28, 2010

How Do We Know An Artist's Intent? -- Ashton

Davenport’s “Impossible Liberties” brings out many of the important questions about artist’s intentions for their work in their lifetime and beyond, especially in regards to contemporary artwork in which the intent or concept is more important than the actual material object. As in the instance of Duane Hanson’s Sunbather, permission was given to replace the suit, swim cap and objects with completely different pieces. To some this may make the object entirely different, but to the artist as long as the work transmits the same message and original idea it is the same work. Such alterations, often times not even carried out by the artist, can be much more drastic, such as cutting the entire piece in half in order to fit in the space available. In the case of Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death to Someone Living,” Vogel explains how the actual shark was replaced with a new one and used a different method to preserve its appearance. Adrian Piper notes that we would be bothered if a Michelangelo foot was removed and put on a different part of the sculpture, and yet replacing entire objects, moving around pieces of the work and other alterations do not disturb the public as much. Is this because contemporary art is more concerned with original intent than the art itself? Is it because the work is done from the hands of the artist himself? Or is it because no great amount of time has elapsed since the work was created?

The issues of artist’s intent are important to establish before an artist’s passing. Joyce Hill Stoner’s article emphasizes the attention to detail that is required in order to fully present an artist’s intent for his or her works. Even in the case of Whistler, who left extensive records, as well as lifetime patterns, for how his art should be displayed, framed, restored and travelled, there are still many controversial questions about his artwork. Where do the intents and requests of an artist end and the judgment of the conservator and curator take over?

As Fred Sandback responded in Davenport’s piece, “When do you decide that the artwork is no longer carrying the ideas? I think rather that the work of art is an idea. Over time it may become a different idea.” While this can certainly refer to a painting simply “mellowing” over time as the varnish acts on the colors, it can also refer to Hirst replacing the entire shark from his work. Is there a difference between these changes?


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Limits and Dangers of Technical Studies: Fakes, Copies and Authenticity – Hughes

Is it possible to know without a doubt that an artwork or object is authentic? Is authenticity “provable” through scientific techniques and empirical evidence? What is authenticity?

Alleged Jackson Pollock from the Matter collection, one of 32 paintings discovered in a storage facility in 2002.

According to the authors of “Art Conservation and Art Fraud: Dissecting the Thin Blue Line,” science cannot provide proof of authenticity in terms of absolute truth; it can only provide evidence for experts to employ towards “developing theories of ‘best fit’” with results of technical analysis placed on an interpretive continuum (Galbally 74). Our discussion of technical studies last week led most of the class to agree that “objective scientific truth” is a practically unattainable goal. Scientific facts are still dependent upon their reading and interpretation. Working with a pre-established methodology during authentication studies should help guard conservators from unintentionally blending fact with opinion.

Powerhouse Mechanic by Lewis Hine, early 1920's

The emergence of the so-called Matter Pollocks and the Rosenblum Hines into the art market illustrates the fact that even works with seemingly impeccable provenance and authentication by respected connoisseurs can fall short of certainty. Can buyers no longer rely on the connoisseur’s legendary “eye” to judge authenticity? Whose responsibility is it to authenticate artwork? What happens to the work when the connoisseur and conservation scientist disagree? Does such controversy forever taint the work’s aesthetic value? Its historical value?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Technical Studies Can Reveal about Original Works--Cummings

Bringing the sculpture's head and patterns on the helmet to life.

This week’s readings make us look at the connection between science and art. Podany and Scott use the “Getty” kouros to show how science and knowledge of ancient artistic techniques were essential to discovering the art’s authenticity. Sheldon mentions the importance of teaching inexperienced art historians the value of technical analysis and the ability to communicate and display their findings to the public. Will the new hybrid field of technical art history change conservation? What can we learn about a piece using current technology and how much do we really want to know? X-ray chromatography, infrared spectroscopy, and microscopic analysis can reveal everything from the origin of the piece to its original appearance.

The "real" Mona Lisa through Pascal Cotte's 240-megapixel Multi-spectral Imaging Camera.

Photo from

The knowledge gained from this technology is both stimulating and valuable, but is only one part of the process. How do museums display their findings? Does presenting this extra data distract from or enhance the experience of the art? Should exhibits present the technical details as irrefutable facts? Brinkmann states in both articles how hard it is to look past our prejudgments of ancient sculptures, especially from Greece and Italy, and accept their painting as its own art form. Blansdorf and Yin indicate that we know ancient Chinese sculptures were painted before and after the terracotta army, yet we still have trouble imagining them fully painted. Even without remnants of pigmentation, scientists and art historians can recreate more truthful representations of art like “Augustus of Prima Porta” and the entire terracotta army. From the readings, it is apparent how imperative cooperation between scientists and art historians is. Art conservation could not thrive without both. It will be interesting to see how future generations will accept the information we are finding today and what new technology will reveal about art.

Pigment remnants on a terracotta army warrior.

Photo from