The Conservation department is carrying out series of interviews with artists to ask questions related to the future care and display of artworks in the Tate collection.

For many years, when works of art were newly acquired by Tate, conservators contacted the artist to ask questions related to the future care and display of the artwork. More recently, the process has been refined to ensure that it is carried out effectively and recorded consistently. Protocols have been developed to try to ensure that the information collected remains useful in future.

Vital information from the artist

Artists may have vital information on how they made a particular piece, referring to specific materials and techniques. They may have useful details on how it is intended to look. Indeed, views of the artist regarding how a work in Tate’s collection should be displayed to allow decisions to be taken on the acceptable mechanics of display (the design of plinths, frames, projectors etc.). When aspects of a work of art are recognised as being potentially problematic, the artist’s views on any future conservation intervention can be recorded.

Discussions with artists feed into various publications, including technique and condition texts which are written by conservators for Tate’s website. Quotations provide valuable evidence about the artist’s intentions and beliefs. Interviewed in November 1998, the British artist Bridget Riley, for example, commented about her use of assistants in painting her works. ‘I do not want to interfere with the experience of what can be seen. Personal handling, thick or thin paint applications, these are in themselves statements and irrelevant for my purpose. My painting has to be devoid of such incidentals.’

Potential pitfalls of interview process 

Of course, an interview may take place long after a work of art was made and understandably an artist may not remember all the details. The artist may never have known the components of the commercial materials used and his or her replies therefore need to be interpreted and qualified in order to avoid seeming at odds with subsequent analysis. For works of art containing materials that may deteriorate, it is also important that the interviewers identify questions likely to be raised by future conservators.    

Establishing European guidelines  

In 1999 the European Union initiative International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (INCCA) was established by the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN), with Tate as co-organiser, to develop guidelines for interviewing artists and to build a website to facilitate the exchange of professional information and knowledge about contemporary artists.   

Establishing internal guidelines at Tate  

At Tate, the internal report Guide to Good Practice: Artists’ Interviews was written by Jo Crook in June 2001. The procedures set out within this document are now followed by Tate, and once the interview has been carried out and copyright of the information agreed, the transcript and tape are sent to the Archive. Copies are kept for section files and interview transcripts or summaries and questionnaires are also linked to the relevant art works on Tate’s electronic records system. Records referencing the interviews are created and form part of the metadata for the adlib database available to INCCA members. 

Recent interviews

Recent interviews carried out in the Conservation department include: Alan Davie, Basil Beattie, Chris Ofili, Nigel Cooke, Bruce Nauman, Paul Martin (son of Kenneth and Mary Martin), John Latham, Richard Hamilton and Carlos Garaicoa.  

Supported by International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art Project, European Union (1999–2002).

Project Information

Lead department(s): 
Support department(s): 
Project team: 
Patricia Smithen (Head of Conservation Programme)
Nicola Heald (Conservation Administrator); all Tate Conservators.