A Tate Collective event at Tate Britain tomorrow will explore the future and value of art through the lens of museum conservation.
The decisions made about documenting, holding and restoring artworks are complex and this event will polemically delve into the received idea that art needs “saving”, and that “saving” it in a physical form is the only course of action. Speakers from the V&A, NADFAS (National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies) and Tate curators and conservators will explain their practices and debate the issues around conserving works. So we’ve turned this week’s Debate over to Mansour Mansour, Tate Collective member and the chair of the event. And he asks us:
Why save anything?
To restore an artwork is to physically keep it in existence. By doing so, large galleries shackle themselves and their audience to what can and could be seen. No gallery has infinite financial muscle and paying for restoration for a certain work is passing judgement on its existence and the non-existence of others. Furthermore, no gallery has the space to display all the works, narrowing the canon and introducing further bias in what we see. Because of a general preference for Blake or Turner, artists like John Martin are murmured in the margins of art history books. In the public space, the current bias in favour of Banky’s works (by councils who consider the more traditional forms of street art (graffiti) as violent acts against property) actively limits the forms of expressions and social commentary saved for the future; the protection afforded to Banksy prioritises his works over others.
The first vague image of an artwork we find is mostly likely to be in a book, where a reproduction tells you its purpose and explains the expression that makes you fall for it. It was its ideas of expression that caught you, not its actual physical form in front of you. So why do we need to restore artworks when they exist perfectly in dog-eared books and glowing web pages? These book and web pages compress time and space, allowing a fair chance of viewing works unhindered by geographical locations and cost of travel, as well as curatorial bias. We learn and fall for most artworks through reading about them, not seeing them, so why keep restoring them?
Mansour Mansour, Tate Collective member and chair of the Why save anything? panel.
Let us know what you think.
- Why should we be saving, documenting and restoring works?
- Can a digital or printed reproduction take the place of a physical work?
- Can you learn as much about a work from descriptions as you can from seeing it yourself?
Why save anything? is sponsored by The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies