It is inevitable that the ground should have shifted somewhat in the course of Inherent Vice: The Replica and its Implications in Modern Sculpture, the Tate workshop supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.1 Indeed, a significant purpose of gathering together different viewpoints and professions from around the world was to air the multidisciplinary debate concerning decay and replication in relation to sculpture of the last hundred years, and to seek a deeper understanding of the, often difficult, problems that arise for the artists, their heirs and the collections that are custodians of their work. The Steering Committee sought out those who were known to be immersed in the subject and committed to thinking about it and debating it.2 These papers were thoughtful and provocative, forming the bedrock for the lively sessions of the workshop itself, of which the following is a brief sketch.
Each session took on different characteristics, determined in part by the subject and in part by those from our Steering Committee who chaired the discussions. In the opening session, Replication Then and Now, Penelope Curtis offered a summary of the issues based around a selection of case studies that had been specifically sought by the Committee from a number of the participants. The session was swiftly opened to the authors of the case studies for further elaboration. They included: Dawn Ades on Duchamp’s Readymades, Karin Orchard on Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau, Maria Gough on Alexander Rodchenko’s constructions, Michelle Barger on Eva Hesse’s latex works, and Guy Brett on the problem of Hélio Oiticica’s participatory works within the exhibition and museum context. Although striking for their differences, this array of examples exposed overlapping concerns with intentionality, respective roles in relation to the artist (assistant, reconstructor and conservator), and the place of the public institution. The debate was further enriched by the comments from other participants, reflecting upon the papers and the points emerging from the debate. One rich vein of discussion emerged around periodicity: the production of replicas in a period of exhibition-making in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Rodchenko’s sculptures, Duchamp’s Large Glass and Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (raised respectively by Christina Lodder, Nathalie Leleu and others).
With a remit to air opinions and experience, the pattern of the chairs’ introduction giving way to free-flowing debate soon allowed all the participants to voice enthusiasms and concerns. The tone of the second session, Why / Why not replicate, was set by contrasting positions laid out by the two chairs. Jennifer Mundy outlined the questions that replication raised for salvaging works – especially those subject to unforeseen degradation - and the role of the museum in relation to a wider programme of cultural education. Raising the question of ‘why we should not replicate’, Briony Fer laid bare some of the anxieties surrounding making replicas of any sort beyond the sanction of the artist. In recognition of the interested parties among the participants, the ambiguities around the survival of the work of Eva Hesse dominated the responses. Questions about the role of assistants, their importance in conveying practical knowledge, distinctions between replicas and ‘mock-ups’ were raised (by Michelle Barger, Elisabeth Sussman and others). There was lengthy discussion of the ‘gasp of recognition’ at the unveiling of the mock-up of Sans II and the contradictory feelings that it evoked. An interesting counter-example lay in the attitude of Anthony McCall towards new versions (revealed in Mark Godfrey’s interview).
The first afternoon session was an opportunity for Tate Conservators to report on the parallel research, also supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, on the work of Naum Gabo. Stephen Hackney introduced the institution’s concerns over the unforeseen disintegration of the plastic sculptures which was at the root of the debate, before Lyndsey Morgan presented information about the new techniques developed to measure and survey the current state of the sculptures. Jackie Heuman explained the process that had gone into making a test replica of Sculpture on a Line, which was placed on display for inspection and generated considerable debate. This emerged around the relationship between an institution and the copyright-holder, and the checks and balances that needed to be in place should such a replica be made public. Beyond the need to mark the object and inform any potential viewer of the status of such an object (as a replica not the work), a broad consensus was established that recognised the usefulness of a three-dimensional record of an endangered object. A range of opinions were voiced about how such a ‘record’ should be used. While some believed that, if unfit, a decayed original should not be exhibited, others declared that replicas should not be exhibited in their place (Graham Williams, Elizabeth Sussman respectively). With the prospects of a section of an artist’s work dying off, there was the suggestion of side-by-side display in which the aging of high modernism – with all the complexities that that suggests – could be recognised.
These rich debates flavoured the fourth session that closed the first day of the workshop. Yve-Alain Bois touched upon some key concerns, proposing that a replica could be acceptable if it was treated as a document and could serve alongside the original. Reflecting on the difficulties of intentionality, he also cited a number of examples, including where he felt artists were deceiving their original intentions (the contrasting examples of Robert Morris and Carl Andre in the Informe exhibition). For his part Walter Grasskamp acknowledged that, whatever the differences in detail, those gathered for the workshop shared a scrupulousness in recognising and addressing their concerns that was fundamentally positive. Some of the areas that had not yet been covered in earlier sessions were drawn-in: the problems inherent in technological obsolescence, how to deal with artists such as Beuys and Roth who embraced change and decay, and how the replica sat in relation to participatory art (discussed by Joanna Philips, Heide Skowranek, Anna Dezeuze and others). It was also in this session that Didier Vermeiren and Sturtevant spoke of the relationships they saw as artists between originals and subsequent versions.
The second day of the workshop saw the surfacing of greater anxieties about the replica and its consequences, as a result of the debates raised on the previous day. Session five, brought together questions of authority and ethics. In her introduction, Carol Mancusi-Ungaro summarised many of the thoughts that had already been voiced in a brilliant sweep through the papers and the comments to date. In throwing the debate open to the floor, Derek Pullen, while acknowledging the crisis of decay also raised doubts about the consequences of replication – summarised in what happens to the good replica (as a bad replica cannot be mistaken for the original). Recurring themes here were a desire to hold-back from replication, fuelled by the examples offered by James Meyer of the Panza di Biumo confrontation with Dan Flavin and Donald Judd. Beyond the dispute between a collector and a living artist, lay a range of questions arising posthumously with the authority of the heirs or the assistants. Associated with this were calls for greater precision in defining the term replica, an expression of anxiety about the role of the conservator in relation to the replicator, and, again, the place of a posthumous object in relation to the original (in terms of display, aura and eventually the catalogue raisonné).
The final session was an opportunity to draw together some of the ideas that had been voiced and some of those that had still to be aired. As chair, I offered some views which summarised the positions that we had reached on the first day, while acknowledging that the drift of the preceding had been towards rejecting replication as a practice. Some spoke up for resisting it at all costs as a means for exhibiting works while accepting it as a three-dimensional record. There was also the opportunity for final thoughts from the assembled company. Many took the opportunity to comment on the success and liveliness of the debate, reflecting upon the mix of people, the movement between theory and practice, between case studies and broader issues. The topic is one that concerned many different groups without falling exclusively within any one domain, so that everyone could speak with authority.
Over the course of the two days and the ensuing months, views and practice may change as a result of the Tate workshop. Among the questions for the future are how the network of those who participated (and others) can be used productively to mutual assistance and to signal ways towards ‘best practice’ in relation to replication. It is part of Tate’s ambition to follow this workshop with a larger conference which will aspire to maintain the mixture and freedom of debate while carrying the debate forward to broader interest groups and a public component. What follows below are comments that participants submitted shortly after the workshop, reflecting their thoughts about the themes addressed and questions that need further consideration in the months and years to come.
In my view, one of the most significant outcomes of the workshop has been the acknowledgment of the difficulty (or perhaps impossibility) of developing a single, widely shared approach to the creation of replicas, and the subsequent recognition that each case should be considered on its own merit. What seems achievable, instead, is the creation of benchmarks relating to the presentation, display, accessioning and management of replicas in museums. While the discussion on the ethics of replication is likely to remain pluralistic, the objective of devising common strategies for the use of replicas could become one of the driving forces behind future debates.
Initially, the notion of the replica in sculptural art seemed a straightforward and minor issue. But reading about the art works put forward in the papers and discussing the concerns expressed in the sessions at the workshop revealed a wide and diverse range of examples, sometimes surprising, remarkable and even painful. The open discussion between all the participants demonstrated a need for definitions of all the variable terminology and the challenge of ascribing a hierarchy to the various types of replicas.
For example, an artist remake of his own – lost – work (a new version) may be preferable to a replica made by his assistant, which in turn would be preferable to a much later copy made from photographs by a model maker. Herein lies the question of what makes a copy a successful one. Again, an agreed definition is required. Perhaps the carefully-made copy is successful when it serves documentary, technical, research or other needs but does not replace the original. The copy made in more stable materials than the original which is falling to pieces should perhaps be seen as an upgrade, an ideal replacement of the real. The exhibition copy takes on a different role, ranging from being made to protect the vulnerable original, to being considered ‘the easy way out’ when loan requests or transportation are problematic. What remains an issue here is what happens to these copies once the exhibitions have ended.
A copy replacing the original is impossible. But originality in itself is shifting away from its original meaning within the context of contemporary art involving concepts, fabricators and producers, where the consent of the artist is sometimes the most ‘artistic’ part of the work.
Clearly, all these aspects can become tricky when the copy ages, when its origin or purpose becomes unknown, when the copy is not accessioned or does not have a fixed place in a museum structure. Now is the right time to investigate this further, to try to set guidelines for the if, the what and the how: a decision-based structure to move from the scattered case-by-case solutions to levels, groups and types of artworks, with their own criteria relating to the validity of copies. Only then can it be decided that a thirty metre high steel outdoor construction can be replaced, remade, interchanged with new material and still be the original work, whereas the new replica of something lost, long gone or never had been, will always be a replica.
In her remarks, Margaret Iversen cited Stephen Bann’s idea of a forced choice between the museum of authentic fragments and the museum of perfect simulacra. At present we find ourselves in a messier situation: in addition to fragments and simulacra, our museums, at least of modern and contemporary art, are mostly stocked with originals in good enough condition. Coming away from the conference, my primary concern is just what effect increasing the proportion of simulacra on display will have on those good-enough originals, and on the museum experience generally.
Several participants predicted toward the end of the workshop that, thanks to the triumph of multiples, often digitally based, the whole notion of an original will soon appear quaint and thus our scruples regarding the fabrication and display of replicas will evaporate. But this presumes either that the making of unique works will cease or that the value we attach to them will disappear. It is equally possible, as we enter ever-newer ages of mechanical (re)producibility, that the aura we attach to originals will, in compensation, grow stronger.
I continue to expect that my museum experience will be primarily of original works that retain, despite whatever conservation might have been performed, significant traces of their original appearance. Thus, to come upon a replica of a lost or damaged work - even (as in the case of the Schwarz edition of Duchamp’s readymades) one made with the approval of the artist - is still a shock, and it reverberates as my visit continues. The shock is not simply that some aura of authentic past-ness and the communion it offers has been ruptured, but that my historian’s habit of closely inspecting artworks as a means to experience, as far as possible, their original condition is temporarily rendered ridiculous or at least wildly hopeful (for how can I know that the replica is a good one?). At the same time, I would predict that most visitors who encounter one of the Schwarz Duchamps are not shocked. Either they do not read the information on the label beyond the artist’s name and life dates or (not expecting to come upon replicas) they do not fully register it. And yet I am convinced that these pieces are serving a valuable purpose, just as I am convinced that the careful fabrication of Gabo replicas will give new life to a body of work that seems fated for rapid deterioration.
This leads to one of the fundamental questions before us, namely the proper labelling of the replicas to be displayed. There are two basic routes: either bury the information and allow most visitors to experience the replicas as originals, thereby eliminating the shock to their historico-aesthetic ‘museum mind’ (to coin a phrase), or make the information impossible to ignore. The first route is more or less common practice, I would argue, given the way most visitors experience labels, but the second route is the only honest one to take. I would go so far as to suggest that the label be made an integral and obvious part of the replica itself, so that it cannot be displayed without it. REPLICA. And perhaps in smaller type: Visual consumption of this product may be hazardous to your faith in the museum.
Modern sculpture that was never made, was made in new materials which have aged badly, or has harnessed change as part of its original meaning. The vocabulary of change is not part of the vocabulary of conservation. With modern sculpture, conservators are harnessed (even hi-jacked) by artists and obliged to follow them in the rules of their game. This may lead them to work on objects which never needed to degrade (Hirst’s shark?) and to come to replace wholes rather than parts. The question of the fragment versus the whole (and the real versus the reconstructed) is never far away. And what is the code as regards the conservation of replicas themselves, especially if they were neither made nor willed by the artist? An added complication is the constant migration of information from one medium to another. Attitudes to replication change, and we inevitably see the replicas of a previous period with as much of a period-eye as we see the art works of the same era. A plethora of exhibition-driven replicas in the 1960s and 1970s was largely fuelled by an enthusiasm for the Constructivist project of Soviet Russia, much of which had a brief or abortive life. Replicas in a time of plenty are understood in the light of an earlier time of attrition. Replication involves making the un-made, editioning the non-editioned, and mass-producing the unproduced or unique original. The extent to which we embrace the material failure of modernism is difficult, especially if its survivors age more quickly than we do ourselves. Many of us have learnt about twentieth-century sculpture from replicas, whether or not we knew what we were looking at in Paris, Eindhoven or Hannover. We can argue that in these places the aura has migrated to the replica. We are reflected in and by our relationship to replicas, and artists themselves may come to renew their early works in the interests of immortality or of the ‘non-finito’. In the viewer there is a perhaps inevitable desire to re-find the quality of our ‘original’ encounter. The framework of minimalism makes it vulnerable to its own betrayal, and artists as well as their heirs can betray their original intentions. How does the institution avoid swindling the public twice; first with the degraded original, and then with the fake replacement? Perhaps our concerns might be allayed if we remember the traditional plurality of sculpture. Canova’s or Rodin’s works exist in many versions, simultaneously, and their site-specificity, in Woburn or Rome, in Calais or in London, can be equally un-unique. Cast collections were the traditional teaching grounds of artists and scholars; their destruction in the twentieth century was a direct result of the backlash against plurality, and of a desire for an impossible singularity.
I was somewhat surprised that the workshop as a whole was remarkably enthusiastic about the Tate’s unveiling of a proto-replica of one of the Gabos which has only just begun to collapse. It was intriguing to learn that Museum and Estate were equally keen on the reconstruction, even if neither had yet officially agreed that it was to be designated a replica. This workshop marked an airing of questions which have long been relegated to a grey area behind the scenes. This in itself has meant that exhibition copies and educational reconstructions have been incompletely documented (exactly because they have not been accessioned) and thus poorly labelled when they have been used on display. There was a clear consensus that replicas must be indelibly marked and fully described. If there was no problem with the replica in itself, there was definitely a problem with its use. Some felt a replica must always be shown alongside the degraded original, while others felt the juxtaposition of a dying (or dead) sculpture alongside a replica that was not an art-work was inherently problematic. Conservators voiced their fears that replicas as ready solutions might hinder the real business of conservation, which was to research and conserve the original, and some indeed felt that conservators should have no business in the making of reconstructions. I was surprised that there was much more discussion of why or how to make replicas than of why not. We needed more salutary case studies, taking in deception, disappointment and forgery. It seemed clear that even if the Museum can raise its standards as regards to the making and using of replicas, its managed space is always close to the unmanaged space of the market, while the Archive comes ever closer into the limelight as the repository of the ‘truly original’.
Firstly, the workshop made me very conscious of the different temporalities at play in twentieth-century object-based artworks, in terms of both their inherent temporality and their afterlife. The inherent temporalities of artworks range from an emphasis on futurity (in the case of utopian prototypes or Fluxus event scores), through a privileging of presence and the here-and-now experience of the spectator (in the case of 1960s artworks celebrating lived experience and participation), and finally to concerns with entropy (in the late 1960s – early 1970s practices exemplified by the works of Eva Hesse or Robert Smithson). Replication, in my opinion, would be generally acceptable in the first case, necessary in the second, and more problematic in the third. The vicissitudes of an artwork’s afterlife are not necessarily dependent on the work’s ontological temporality. Following artist Thomas Hirschhorn’s distinction between the ‘ephemeral’ and the ‘precarious’, I would like to differentiate here between natural damages (such as material erosion) and human interventions (such as theft, accidental or deliberate destruction, and displacement). Although both phenomena become part of the artwork’s history, they raise different sets of issues which may also affect the decision of whether to replicate or not.
Secondly, I was struck over the course of the workshop by the issue of aura and materiality that seems inseparable from any discussion of artworks. This category of objects, we were often reminded, is reducible neither to its material existence nor to the ‘ideas’ it embodies, so that its aura hovers in an ever-elusive space between the two. Rather than concluding, however, that replicas would never be able to capture this aura, I came away from the workshop believing that replicas threaten the concept of originality precisely because, as objects, they can acquire an aura of their own. The shift to a ‘dispersed mode’ of creation exemplified by conceptual practices since the late 1960s (according to Alex Potts) has demonstrated in my eyes that even when the issue of originality itself is questioned by the artist, a sense of aura is retained – albeit in a newly dispersed form which is not located in a single object. We can now overcome our anxieties about originality, and fully embrace the inherently excessive and uncontrollable nature of the artwork’s aura.
Finally, the preoccupations with scruples and consensus running throughout the workshop suggested to me the need for an arbiter or mediator (between museums and artist estates or art dealers), whose role would be to ascertain the possibility of replicating specific works by evaluating relevant market-, conservation- or exhibition-driven concerns. I referred to this jokingly in the workshop as a ‘social service’ for artworks – perhaps a panel of art historians and conservators who, in dialogue with curators and artist’s families, would come to a decision on a case-by-case basis, and hence be able to arbitrate disputes and be accountable for the initial act of replication. The afterlife and aura of an artwork will (and should perhaps) never be fully controlled, but we may be able to find some ways to keep the ever-voracious forces of commercial and professional interests at bay – if only at the moment when the possibility of replication is being decided.
I cannot resist referring to a story by Jorge Luis Borges ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote’. Although imagined as a purely creative act, this story simply and obliquely, raises some of the quandaries of replication, particularly that of the shifting context in which the work is made. The nub of the idea is contained in the following description of Menard’s enterprise:
He did not want to compose another Quixote – which is easy – but the Quixote itself. Needless to say, he never contemplated a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide – word for word and line for line – with those of Miguel de Cervantes.
Menard’s enterprise – which included learning sixteenth-century Spanish – was, therefore indistinguishable in all but the context.
I am struck by many other things that have emerged in the course of these sessions, not least the emotive language of description: anxiety, complicity, collapse, catastrophe, pathos and decay, trauma and horror, even, most sinisterly, kidnap and death. Is replication really the subject of such drama? I think that we have revealed it to be just that because, as Briony Fer said, it is about ourselves. The drama of the language demonstrates a passion and a commitment, and is off-set by the ideas and ideals – even the daring prospect of ‘confidence’ - that also fire the scrupulous. And, perhaps more to the point, does this not reveal the contradictory pull between our aspirations towards objectivity – the three-fold method of measurement applied to Gabo which surely Duchamp would have admired for its complexity – immediately denied by the subjectivity of our vision, reception and reaction?
Luckily, Walter Grasskamp has inscribed us in the Sect of the Scrupulous which, given the shark-infested waters of replication, seems an entirely suitable and desirable place to be.
We, who are concerned with the present, look back for the (as it transpires) ambiguous lessons of the past and towards the prospects for the future. It is with an eye to the present and the future that many replicas have been conceived, the bastard children of polemical scholarship and exhibition spectacle. Reputation – its assertion, confirmation, dissemination – lies at the heart of such actions; whether it is the artist him or herself forging a place in history or their family or champions seeking to recover them from obscurity under the impetus of securing a reputation and explicitly with what Briony Fer described as the irresistible undertow of the market. One can almost hear the backwash of the wave that threatens to sweep our feet from under us.
But if we agree that we can, inevitably, only act in the present and plan for the future – perhaps with a view to periodic reassessment of any fabricated object as Sean Rainbird suggested – it is almost impossible to resolve a general protocol to cover replication. For some, the virtual simulation suffices, for others the mock-up cannot displace the original, however decayed. For others, the market might be defied by mass-production (though prolific production does not, necessarily, mitigate high values as Warhol demonstrates), while, for others again, the institutions are in danger of validating the unsuccessful travesties of the unscrupulous. The intentions of the artists seem as difficult to establish as the paltry heat that Rodchenko’s constructions must have supplied.
It seems to me – to add one more scruple to the creed – that the very act of replicating will have echoes in the market, even if the fabricated object does not leave the ownership of the institution. This is because, on the one hand, it explicitly confirms the suppressed fears of the material degradation that already overshadow related pieces and, on the other hand, it will open a new market for replacement objects.
Having said all of this, I can see two potential developments from this workshop, both of which appear positive. The first is that the potential for a study copy, surrogate or replica (and, acknowledging Ulrich Lang’s concerns, I think that the complexity and flexibility of the English language naturally counts against us at this juncture) seem to have been met with general acceptance. Whether this new object is regarded as a replica or a document (as Yve-Alain Bois has, persuasively, argued) it seems our best bet to serve as a vessel for the physical qualities that are on the brink. If there has been much talk of collective gasps, it was less the presentation of the copy than the image of the Hirshhorn’s Pevsner, looking like a plate of Doritos, that seemed to seal the issue for many people. As I have said, subjective emotion plays a role here and this was clearly a case of a group response.
So, if it is possible, tentatively, to edge towards the proposition of the replica (via the study-copy and proto-replica perhaps), I would propose that the institutions might announce their scrupulousness through a simple formula of ‘replication not proliferation’. In a world with too much art, it may be that we can, at least, agree to resolve to use the object made anew as we have tried simply to define it in the glossary as the ‘public replacement of the original’, neither more nor less. If the institutions are to steer clear of the multiplication of material that so outraged those who witnessed the Schwarz edition of Duchamp readymades, perhaps it is only through a one-for-one replacement that a distance from the market forces can be maintained.
It would be simpler to let the work disappear, like Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari, but if we face the fact that museums seek to preserve rather than destroy – whatever the repeated concerns with what Marinetti characterised as ‘museums: cemeteries’ and Roth less aggressively called ‘museum time’ – then replication seems inevitable. If it cannot be said that we can draw up the guide-lines that were once our aspiration, it may be that engaging with the issue in practical terms may also establish a precedent that can aspire to be exemplary.
The discussion at the workshop was wide ranging and subtle, particularly when discussing artists’ involvement in replication. Where artists are not directly responsible for a replica, some clarification and structure can be brought to the arguments. On the second day Carol Mancusi-Ungaro attempted to do just this, with some success, but her ideas were quickly swamped in the free ranging discussion that followed. It is therefore worth considering this aspect in isolation in order to make progress on a set of ethics.
Emerging from the necessary broader arguments are some useful specific rules that can be compiled to allow conservators to work within ethical guidelines.
- A replica made by the artist is a new version of the original and should be given a new date. Many examples of problems associated with artist involvement were discussed at the workshop and these cannot be summarised easily.
- A replica made by a conservator (or person acting as a conservator) is a document for museum and historic purposes. It is not a work of art or a new version of the original and should be identified as a document.
- Ethically, a conservator cannot make a new work of art or anything that can be sold as a replacement for the original. Anyone acting as a conservator is bound by the same ethics and can be challenged.
- A conservator may ask for information from an artist to ensure the accuracy of interpretation but the conservator is ultimately responsible for making a document replica. It is not a work of art.
- The artist can take the role of a conservator in which case he or she will produce a document and not a new version. The replica will have the same status as if it were not done by the artist. This is analogous to the removal of artist’s repairs by a conservator; valid when the artist repaired his/her own work and the repairs are no longer acceptable.
- The artist’s estate can overrule the actions of a replicator or give permission for a document replica. A conservator can consult the estate or others close to the artist on artist’s intention.
- The estate can authorise a document-type replica but cannot authorise a new version.
- A conservator is responsible to the owner of a work of art and should not have a separate agreement with the artist’s estate that excludes the owner or is contrary to the owner’s interests.
- If in future through habit or by conscious decision the document-replica takes the place of the original for all intents and purposes, that is a separate process decided by others and should not be assumed.
- These rules would, I hope, allow conservators to make replicas within a framework that prevents them making ethical mistakes. Others making replicas will need to justify their actions and define the purpose of their replica.
I put these forward as a set of rules that should be clear from the start and allow a framework for replication by a conservator.
Suggested Procedure for Making a Document-Replica
- Requirement: the original is physically degrading and will soon become unusable: unexhibitable or too fragile to handle.
- Ownership of the original must be unchallenged and artist’s rights (trust or family representation) must be consulted.
- Ownership and responsibility for the associated documentation falls to the owner of the work of art.
- Record the original condition to the best standards possible, and document the three-dimensional image.
- Make a replica of the original: this can be an objective record of the work’s current condition or an interpretation of the original condition, by using original materials or new materials, copying the processes, copying the appearance, or making a virtual copy.
- Identify the replica as a copy: keep all other versions, practice copies, etc. in an archive that is secure, or destroy them. Copies should be labelled and documented.
- Store the original in the best conditions for its survival.
- Documents relating to the replica to be created and stored securely: These can include:
- proof of ownership and copyright.
- dated record of the structure and condition of the original.
- archival material generated in making the replica.
- independently witnessed and audited record of events.
- If the official replica becomes unusable, a new official replica can be made by the owners following the same procedure. The previous official replica and any new material generated should be added to the archive or destroyed.
- The original work of art remains the original as long as any part remains. If nothing remains of the original, the documentation (including any replicas) has the status of documentation of the lost original.
The general consensus of the meeting seemed to be that replicas of self-destructing sculptures should be made where the importance of the work warranted it. The replica should count as something like a three-dimensional photograph. As photographs cannot capture many of the crucial characteristics of sculpture, the issue of replication is raised in this case with special force. Exactly how these replicas should be displayed in the gallery context was a matter of some debate. Should a shiny new replica sit next to a warped and yellowing original? Or might a moving image of the replica inform the viewer about the artist’s original intentions without usurping the place of the original? In very severe cases of corruption (the proverbial plate of Doritos) perhaps a vintage photograph of the original could accompany a clearly labelled display of the replica. Some works were thought to be less replication-sensitive than others. For instance, re-construction of a Serra does not seem to count as a replica. An issue that was raised in closing was the possibility that a work of art that no longer exists might retain its art historical and exhibition value as long as it is well-documented.
During the workshop it became increasingly clear that a replica may be defined in many ways. Our German colleagues alerted us to a more restrictive meaning while others used the term to discuss a remake by an artist as well as a reconstruction of a lost work by a later generation. To my mind, it is not so much a question of semantics as it is a question of meaning based upon motivation. Once those categories (and boundaries) of intent are more clearly distinguished and guidelines for their implementation are established, then perhaps we may approach a professional consensus with regard to ethical practice.
In the 1920s, when research into plastics was still often shrouded in mysterious processes, chemists used to enjoy repeating the wry warning: ‘he who acetates is lost’. But a young English chemist called V. E. Yarsley did persist with the substance: he trained at Birmingham, then at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zürich, before returning to the United Kingdom to conduct research on the development of non-inflammable ciné film. Later, he became an independent consultant specialising in cellulose plastics. He is perhaps best remembered now for his book, Plastics, which he co-authored with a fellow applied chemist, Edward Couzens, in 1941. Yarsley and Couzens were converts; their text culminates in an ecstatic vision of a vibrant plastic future in which almost every element of the everyday living environment is composed of this modern, hygienic substance. Plastics, we learn, are incorrodible, self-coloured, practically unbreakable, lightweight, able to assume a clarity exceeding that even of glass, of equal strength in all directions, good insulators of heat and electricity, pleasant to touch, and, most-importantly of all, pre-eminently adapted to mass production.3 Plastics – runs the sub-text – would help the Allies to win the War.
The workshop made me appreciate just how little consideration we often give to the implications of the use of specific materials in works of art. Yarsley and Couzens emphasise the modernity of plastic: they stress how it is a substance consumed by the needs of the current moment. They envision the future purely in the terms of the present. These thoughts crossed my mind as I looked at the Tate’s recent copy of Gabo’s Construction on a Line 1935–7, on display for us during the workshop. Yet in the context of Jackie Heuman’s warning that this duplicate will itself degrade with time, I realised that my appreciation of the transparency of this object was already tinted by an awareness of the plastic’s frailty and transience. How alien such thoughts would have been to the likes of Yarsley and Couzens. The caution, ‘he who acetates’, might not have been relevant to them; but it applies perfectly to us.
In much of the discussion, it seemed to me that two economies were at war, both of which have some sway in the museum world. The first is of the legally protected, limited and authorised production of rare or unique objects for sale in the art market and display as valued artefacts in the museum. Here restriction of ownership, and even restriction on the circulation of the images of such objects, is all. The second is a consumer model, which may also be tied to educational demands: that much art is replicable without appreciable loss of quality, and should be more widely owned and experienced. Its current technological horizon is the three-dimensional printer (which some see as a consumer item in the near-future), with which potentially you could print out maquettes of the great artists in and for your living room. The war over the ownership, circulation and copyright of music, films and flat images is waged in software, courts and propaganda; it now looms over the realm of sculpture.
Nina and Graham Williams
There is an obvious and urgent need to establish a glossary of terms with exact definitions, accepted and used by all concerned. This, if insisted upon by the major museums, will help to throw light and exert control on dubious works. If we can downgrade ‘Rembrandt’ canvases, we can downgrade copies. The fear of abuse by commercial interests, including copyright owners, lies behind much of the disquiet about replication. That certain artists have clouded the issue during their lifetime need only be known as aberrations. The ‘almost a replica’ of a Gabo construction that was presented at the workshop will, once minutely corrected and only for a time, be able to present a now otherwise non-existent form by Gabo to a new generation, who must know that it is not ‘the real thing’.
- 1. I should like to take this opportunity to thank The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for their generous support for the workshop and the associated research project, and to acknowledge the significant role played by Angelica Rudenstine, whose advice and encouragement has been crucial.
- 2. This confidence was borne out by the short papers that were made available to participants prior to the workshop, most of which are now made available here with only limited changes and omissions.
The sessions of the workshop were closed to the invited contributors and a small number of observers, and the papers prepared on this basis. On being invited to publish, a small number of participants preferred to hold back their papers, usually as a reflection of unfinished research.
- 3. V.E. Yarsley and E.G. Couzens, Plastics, London, 1941, p.146.