via Artopia, John Perrault's art diary (Jan 3, 2010):
The Doritos Syndrome
If it has never occurred to you how fragile works of art are, start worrying now. Temperature, humidity, and people looking at them can make them age, wrinkle, fall apart. And we can blame artists, too. They persist in playing with time-bound products like fluorescent lights and various video formats; they even distribute and store their art electronically on YouTube. Are YouTube and Picasa eternal? Is The Cloud, located in server forests somewhere in Switzerland or China, invulnerable to time and fortune?
Writers, you are not secure either. The New York State Archives recommends that electronic texts have paper backups and that electronic files be copied every three to five years, even to the point of "migrating" them to a new system.
But art has been asking for trouble for a long time. Artists of the last century indulged in unstable materials. Naum Gabo and his brother Antoine Pevsner enjoyed making sculpture out of cellulose nitrate back in the USSR. So much like glass, but lighter, unbreakable and easier to handle; so new.
At a 2007 conservation workshop at London's Tate, there were "collective gasps" when an original Pevsner, now looking like a "plate of Doritos," was shown next to an image of a recently constructed replica of what it had looked like in its glory day.
Cellulose nitrate is bad enough; think of fat and felt; of earth, blood, semen, garbage. Hot dogs.
Carol Mancuso-Ungaro (associate director for conservation and research at the Whitney Museum) in Conservation Perspectives, the Newsletter of the Getty Conservation Institute, reports the following anecdote offered by her British colleague Herbert Lank:
An auction house had received for sale a construction by Beuys of a German U-shaped knackwurst suspended from a rod by shoelaces. Unfortunately the Dutch owners had taken it off the wall overnight before packing. On returning in the morning to do so, they found that a large chunk had been bitten out of the base: their parrot was lying dead on the floor.
Joseph Beuys, when asked about what to do, replied that a new sausage would not be a solution because the original was by then 10 years old, and that the "patina" was an essential element of the work.
"Lank," reports Mancuso-Ungaro, " meticulously restored the missing part.
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