Guggenheim.org Highlights Conservation of Time-Based Media Art

Conservators in the Media Conservation Lab at work on Guggenheim collection works.

With the appointment of Joanna Phillips, Associate Conservator of Contemporary Art, in 2008, the Guggenheim joined the growing number of art museums worldwide that dedicate specialized conservation staff to time-based media art—such as film, video, computer, and audio works by Marina Abramović, Tacita Dean, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Bill Viola, and others—in their custody. A new section of Guggenheim.org now details the museum’s continuing efforts to provide the necessary and best care for these contemporary artworks, including information on the development of the Media Conservation Lab, an overview of newly established conservation practices, and guidelines and templates for media art documentation.

Time-based media art presents conservators with unique challenges. Unlike more traditional works such as paintings or sculptures that exist as singular objects and can be conserved as such, time-based media artworks only exist when they are installed as a functioning system. Because no two installed iterations are exactly the same, there is an element of variability inherent to them. In addition to this, the technologies and devices that artists use in the artworks become obsolete over time, introducing another dimension of change. In order to sustain a media artwork’s life and ensure a presentation that is faithful to its core identity, conservators—in dialogue with the artist—identify the meaning of selected equipment for the artwork while also monitoring and studying its behavior over the course of various iterations. The understanding reached through these efforts enables conservators to maintain the integrity of the artwork despite technological change and site variations.

To create a deep, institutional knowledge of the media works in its care, Guggenheim Conservation has developed and implemented an innovative documentation system featuring Iteration Reports. The reports track the impact of each person involved with the appearance of a media artwork, from the artist through curators to the installation crew, and capture their choices and reasons for making them. Sample Iteration Reports and other resources are now downloadable at Guggenheim.org.

Read more about how Guggenheim Conservation preserves film, video, audio, and related mediums at the Time-Based Media page.

Conservators in the Media Conservation Lab at work on Guggenheim collection works. Accessing the image and sound information on media elements such as video tapes and film reels is important for ensuring a work’s successful display and preservation. Photo: Jeffrey Warda

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