The Conservation Department carries out interviews with artists to ask questions related to the future care and display of artworks in Tate’s collection. Protocols have been developed to ensure that the interviews are recorded consistently and that the information is useful for the future.
Artists have first-hand knowledge of the materials and techniques used in making their own works, and may have particular views about how their pieces should look and be displayed. Discussions with them can help establish the acceptable parameters of display (the design of plinths, frames, projectors etc.). When the materials or techniques used in making an artwork seem potentially problematic, the artist’s views on any future conservation intervention can be recorded. For such works it is important that the interviewers identify questions that might be raised by future conservators.
Discussions with artists feed into various publications, including technique and condition texts which are written by conservators for Tate’s website. Quotations also provide valuable evidence about the artist’s intentions and beliefs. Of course, an interview may take place long after a particular artwork was made and understandably an artist’s memories may be incorrect or partial. The artist may never have known all the components of the commercial materials used in a work, for example, and his or her replies therefore need to be interpreted and qualified in the light of analysis.
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.
‘Tate Style’ has detailed guidelines about how to conduct interviews and a template copyright release form in the section dealing with collection research. Conservators may also wish to consult the ‘Guide to Good Practice: Artists’ Interviews’ (2001) was drafted in response and sets out the procedures to be followed by Tate conservators Once an interview has been carried out and a copyright agreement signed by all parties, a transcript and the recording are sent to the Tate Archive. Copies are kept for departmental files and interview transcripts or summaries and questionnaires are linked to the relevant artworks 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.