Monday, February 16, 2009

The Perils of Sateen Dura-Luxe :: Open Thread

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Bluebeard, a fictional Abstract Expressionist painter named Rabo Karabekian has a major setback when his most famous work of art, "Windsor Blue Number Seventeen," which had been hanging in the very public lobby of a major corporation, literally falls apart. The unconventional paint he used to make his masterpiece, Sateen Dura-Luxe, eventually pulls away from the canvas to his career-shattering embarrassment. A whole series of melodramatic misfortunes follow, but it all points back to his failure to predict how this paint would hold up over time.

A similar situation, or at least the potential for it, was brought to my attention the other day and it led me to wonder just where the responsibilities for owning up to the repercussions of experimenting with new materials and/or processes begin and end. I was told the story of two collectors who were intrigued by the work of a young artist using a new process in creating his paintings. None of the works in this series are more than four years old at this point, but there's enough interest in the work that a recent exhibition of it sold very well. These collectors, having had work they purchased fall apart before, asked the dealer how archival these new works are. The dealer assured the collectors that they had nothing to worry about.

Eventually these collectors selected a piece by this artist that they wanted to buy. Again, they asked about the longevity of the works, and again the dealer assured them that the piece would be fine. OK, the collectors said, we'd like that to be stated in the terms of sale. They wanted a guarantee. The dealer went back to the artist with this request and, to make a long story short, eventually both the artist and the dealer decided not to guarantee the work, not even for a limited period of time. The collectors passed on the work, but know that later someone else purchased it. This raises a whole spectrum of questions, none the least of which is why a dealer would insist a work will be fine without agreeing to guarantee that.

Any dealer and most artists can tell you that the most unexpected things can happen with artwork over time. Art is made of materials that age and, with age, change...there is nothing to be done about that. This is a reality that keeps an entire industry (conservation) fairly busy. The question to my mind is never whether a work of art might change, but how the dealer and/or artist stand behind it.

Different media have different expectations of course. No one expects a work on delicate rice paper to last as long as oil on linen, for example. Art made of food or other perishable materials will decay within a shorter period of time. There's no getting around it. The issue isn't longevity, per se, but providing accurate information to who is purchasing the work.

Personally, I feel it is the gallery's responsibility to be able to speak authoritatively on how long a work of art is likely to remain in the state a collector buys it. If the work is designed to survive only 3 years or to have some component of it replenished, all of that needs to be spelled out carefully and truthfully. Contacting conservators for accurate information on longevity and likley restoration costs/processes is simple enough.

But what about the artist's responsibility here? A dealer can always give a collector their money back, should a work disintegrate unexpectedly or unacceptably, and in doing so keep their reputation intact, but if word gets out, it's the artist who stands to really suffer. Even by phrasing it that way ("if word gets out"), I'm betraying what I personally feel is indeed the responsibility of the artist to become an authority on just how archival their materials and/or processes are. Again, it's fine if work has a short shelf-life (so long as that's conceptually sound), but it's not at all fine to my mind for an artist to say, essentially, "I don't know...buy it at your own risk" (unless, again, that contingency is an integral part of the work). Especially when experimenting with new materials, accurate information is IMO the responsbility of both the artist and the dealer. What it costs to get an conservator to research the longevity of a piece is money well spent when the consequences can be irreparable harm to one's reputation.

Consider this an open thread on the artist's and dealer's responsibilities, for work in any medium (even paintings still fall apart).

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42 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of when the Starns Twins (http://www.starnstudio.com/) tried to get 3M to provide a document on the archival integrity of Scotch tape for their early photo-collage work which launched their careers. It didn't happen. I believe it all still sold.

2/17/2009 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The question, though, to my mind is not whether work of questionable archival integrity should sell. All I think is important here is full disclosure. "We don't know how long it will last," is an acceptable answer (after some research, I would say). What seems unacceptable to my mind is "Don't worry about it...it will be fine," when in fact you don't have any evidence to back that up.

2/17/2009 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Tatiana said...

Im waiting for the day that Liquitex develops "invisible paint" that disintegrates once in the atmosphere of a humidity controlled gallery...then a whole new genre of art will be born -- the faded works of XYZ artist.
Seriously -- I think artists should 'fess up if they are "experimenting" with new materials and it's the dealer's responsibility to list the medium/s used...and then the buyer should just be-ware.

2/17/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous matt said...

I'd like to share what an artist friend of mine recently wrote me that I believe fits here:

"If I sell a work of art it is not as an object but as someone buying into my process...to buy something from me is to buy into that process not an object...Of course it can be an object...it can even be admired or enjoyed...but it wont last forever!! Where did this come from? This lasting forever thing?...That art is long, life is short has nothing to do with art lasting...it has in my opinion only to do with the making of it...life is short so don’t waste time not making art as it takes a life to make art...that is why it is expensive...it is part of a persons life and in that life sacrifices had to be made...obstacles jumped over (hopefully), compromised life styles...often lacking normal day to day pleasures that others can take for granted...its loneliness...friendless...talking to oneself...what is the price tag on that?"

--"We don't know how long it will last," is an acceptable answer (after some research, I would say). What seems unacceptable to my mind is "Don't worry about it...it will be fine," when in fact you don't have any evidence to back that up.— I think it’s a complicated, sticky matter for the dealer and it’s also difficult for the artist to actually make a definitive statement since some artists, perhaps many, experiment with new material, mix materials, etc. Who really knows how long a piece will last or how durable a piece is in certain conditions for example? If it’s experimental, it is experimental i.e. disclosure is at best an ‘educated’ guess since you most likely won’t have evidence to back up any concrete claim.

I suppose from a selling point of view, it doesn’t sound good to say, “buy it at your own risk.”

2/17/2009 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If it’s experimental, it is experimental i.e. disclosure is at best an ‘educated’ guess since you most likely won’t have evidence to back up any concrete claim.

I see the potential for all kinds of romantic notions to get in the way of what I'm really trying to communicate here. Let me be really plain:

It's perfectly legitimate to say "this work will fall apart the moment you set it down in your home" if that's the work. It's perfectly legitimate to say "I was experimenting...I have no idea at all how long this will last."

What's not legitimate is to offer false assurances when you really have no clue. It's not legitimate to lie about it.

2/17/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger J Bills said...

I agree with the artist's statement Matt posted. I understand a collector asking about the archival quality of the work, but to request that terms be written into the sale... I would draw a line on that one. Seems overly paranoid and would cause legal problems down the line.

The notion that art must last for ages is wishful thinking. I think there two main proponents of this idea. The first are collectors who buy art for investment purposes, ie work will grow more valuable over time, so it should last long. The second are artists with egos large enough to think their art should last forever. Both probably feed off each other.

2/17/2009 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The notion that art must last for ages is wishful thinking.

Grrrr..

Can we push this straw man argument aside once and for all in this thread, please?

No one is saying that art must last for ages. That is not a relevant point to bring up in this context because no one is asserting that it should last forever. That's not on the table at all, and it's distracting from what is actually the point of the thread.

If you (as a dealer or artist) are insisting that a collector need not worry about how long something will last before a sale, you should damn well stand by that claim after a sale. If you're not willing to stand by it after the sale, do not...I repeat DO NOT, make that claim before a sale.

It's really that simple. Anything else is lying.

In this instance, the dealer was insisting that the work would be OK. The collectors were not paranoid...they had had work fall apart before. They were not being unreasonable either. They simply wanted to make an informed purchasing decision and to do so asked, nicely, whether the dealer would refund their money if the work fell apart. That is something dealers should be more than happy to offer if they're going to insist that the collector need not worry, IMO. Otherwise, be honest up front about the fact that you're not sure whether it will last. Do NOT insist it will be OK if you don't have a clue.

2/17/2009 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ED:

Agnes Gund is big on this issue. Look it up.

2/17/2009 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

Yargh! Yargh! Yargh!

The fact is, Ed, a huge number of artists practicing today don't know a thing about what is archival and what isn't, and they don't think it is important to know. If you happen to have a professor who insists that you learn, well and good, but a great number of art schools aren't teaching it. Knowing the principles and techniques of working with materials is considered a crotchety retro quirk, at best.

This not only creates headaches for dealers, collectors, and conservators, but to my mind it's a tragedy that centuries of painstakingly gathered information are being lost. Understanding what makes a piece archival is part and parcel of understanding your medium well enough to get a wide range of powerful effects with it.

Certainly experimentation is the essence of art, and pushing one's medium is essential to growing as an artist, but why do people assume that re-inventing the wheel is the only way to do that? That quote from Matt's friend, above, seems to me to be typical of the arrogant, egotistical attitude that it's not important for an artist to understand their own medium, its history and its properties, but that people should still drop huge sums of money on a piece just because it's Art By Him.

The fact is, guys, art may not last forever, but there are some pretty basic things you can do to ensure that it lasts for at least a couple hundred years, when kept inside in an air-controlled space. If you have a specific reason for wanting your work to decay, that should be part of your presentation up front. If not, there's no excuse for telling someone that 'the notion that art should last for ages is wishful thinking' when confronted with a collector who wants to know whether their piece will fall apart in five years or not. That's just arrogance born of ignorance and laziness.

2/17/2009 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous matt said...

It's simple, very simple.If you don't know or are not sure, then simple say that. Not tell someone something that isn't true. That's pretty easy...

2/17/2009 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Although I share your sentiments on this topic, Pretty Lady, they are equally off topic. Matt's last comment is the central issue...not whether an artist is a master of their medium or not...but rather whether they try to suggest they are, by reassuring potential collectors of longevity they truly have no clue about, when they're unsure.

Agnes Gund is big on this issue. Look it up.

Everyone, please....if you want folks to know something, please share a link. Here, you've barely supplied enough information for anyone to look it up without having to guess about a whole slew of things.

2/17/2009 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Selling an object that won't last by characterizing it as an object that will last, is unethical.

2/17/2009 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

I agree that full disclosure is the safest ethical and legal path - for instance a Tibetan sand painting is not meant to last, yet many people commission them. I saw a piece by an artist whose medium was Barbie-doll hairs cut to 2-3mm lengths and arranged on the floor (she did other things involving synthetic hairs, but this was the most striking). Not for sale, and obviously would be destroyed when the exhibit was taken down.

I think there are some things so delicate and so ephemeral, that it may not be a good idea to attempt to sell to the general art buying public as a piece, though if the collector were experienced with proper care, and understood - REALLY UNDERSTOOD - it ought to be OK. (Like when investors have to have some sort of minimum net worth before buying some classes of assets)

2/17/2009 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Commissioning a process or performance (the ephemeral) is different than commissioning (buying to own) and object.

Consider a Sol LeWitt wall drawing.

2/17/2009 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

"Erased DeKooning" relatively archival but meaningless unless you knew the story. The result of a process, and the resultant blank paper is but a souvenir.

2/17/2009 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Shouldn;t a true connoisseur know as much about materials as an artist?

While I agree that it is bad form to lie, there are mitigating factors when dealing with clueless rubes or "marks" as we like to call them in the biz.

If said sad collectors are buying an acrylic or oil painting as an investment and they want a guarantee, I think it's fine to inform them that it will last long enough for them to flip it at auction without knowing the precise date of its demise.

And so with this issue we ask more transparency:

who are these collectors? How dare they ask if food dyes are fugitive? How dare they question the viscosity of brie?

What would Schnabel do?

Archival is defined generally as 100+ earth years not to exceed forever, which is of course, ludicrous.

Artists are not babysitters or conservators and they should not be put in a possition of being on call for every little crack or ding.

Unless they want to preserve the integrity of their genius.

I know I would.

For free.

If you shot a painting into space at light speed, you might assume naturally that relativity and being in a space capsule would take care of the climate controll issues.

But no one can predict the tiny space particles that might rupture the hermetic seal. that little children might put their tiny little elbows through the fabric of spce and time.

Indeed, what have we become when we quibble over a day of wine and cheese and restoration and later, a drink?

As a wit once said - a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Now back to Holland Cotter. What is his damage?

Will Tintin ever leave Tibet?

Wild man wild.

2/17/2009 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

I don't think my comment is at all off topic, Ed, if this is indeed 'an open thread on artist's and dealer's responsibilities, for work in any medium (even paintings [that] still fall apart.)

It is my contention that it USED to be the artist's responsibility to make something that would not fall apart. It isn't anymore. It is my controversial contention that this is as much due to laziness, arrogance and egotism as it is to genuine artistic concerns.

Feel free to argue with that contention, but to say that it is irrelevant is to directly contradict your stated intention for the thread, unless you indeed simply intended it to garner support for your very reasonable proposition (that artists own up to it when they don't know their own materials.)

Possibly off topic, but invaluable: the book Formulas for Painters, by Robert Massey, is an invaluable guide for painters who want to extend their range without making work that turns into an Albert Pinkham Ryder heap of goo.

2/17/2009 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

IMO there are only two statements that can be made to a buyer.
(1.) "To the best of my knowledge, and with the following provisos about care and handling, this work should last ..." (2.) "I cannot say how long this work will last."

2/17/2009 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ralph Mayer - The Artist's Handbook is the bible for painters, revised and updated for the last 70 years.

That said, you can do just about anything with acrylic and it won't fall apart. Oil paint is fussier. If you have the handbook it's all you need to know what not to do. There's no need to get extraordinarily fussy about it.

That said, ephemeral art has it's place. Art designed to avoid objectified consumption has it's place. A lot of sincere art deserves to disintegrate. Too much attention is being placed upon selling and not enough on the why of the making.

2/17/2009 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger Henry Bateman said...

A conservator friend was telling me about a collector who had called him in to assess the damage happening to a pair of oils in his collection. The collector had done the right thing, hung them on an internal wall out of direct sun light but still they were deteriorating before his very eyes. It seems the room the collector had hung them in had french doors that opened onto the patio and the pool. The cooling summer breeze would waft in through these doors laden with a chemical mixture from the pool to feast upon the art works. My friend was able to solve the problem by cleaning them and putting them under glass. A less reputable collector may well have been knocking on the gallery door demanding satisfaction, especially if they had become bored by the works.

It's a dangerous world out there especially for works of art and the big problem with guarantees is that one has no idea what is going to happen once the work walks out the door.

2/17/2009 05:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you have the handbook it's all you need to know what not to do. There's no need to get extraordinarily fussy about it."

That's not really true unless you're a paint-on-canvas artist. What about the guy who makes drawings with ink and soap bubbles? Will the acid in the soap affect the paper? What about making prints with rust on fabric or motor oil on paper? Or any of the other million "alternative" processes that are being used/invented every day.

I do agree that as artists we have the responsibility to understand our materials and communicate their limitations to our dealers and collectors. However, if you're experimenting, what are you supposed to do? Save your work for forty years and see if it's still holding up before you start selling it? No, you're going to say, I don't know how well this is going to hold up, and let the buyer beware.

2/17/2009 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, I don't agree that "you can do just about anything with acrylic and it won't fall apart." Acrylics are quite fragile, as these pages from the Tate and the Smithsonian show. It's the sort of knowledge that can help sellers answer questions truthfully.

2/17/2009 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Tom,

Good links. However what I was suggesting was that for most artists the technical issues involved with the use of acrylics pale in comparison to those for oil paint. The articles deal more with conservation which as one would expect to be different for each medium.

2/17/2009 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

George, yes, acrylics are easier to work with. This was their big selling point when introduced in the 1950s. The 1950s! We've only had about sixty years to see what problems acrylic paintings might display as they age, and what will happen over a sixty year period is all a seller can truthfully talk about with a buyer. No one knows, yet, what will happen after one-hundred-and-twenty years of just hanging on a wall. Will the soft acrylic film change to a field of micro-crumbles that fall from the painting like dandruff? It's not impossible. Viewed against the whole history of art, acrylic painting is still an experimental medium. We can make scientific guesses about the long run, but the unexpected has a way of proving us wrong. Still, we learn as much as we can, and do the best we can, for our buyers.

2/17/2009 09:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry R. said...

Interestingly only one person so far has mentioned the role of the buyer in preserving the work of art. But doesn't the buyer have as much responsibility as the other two members of the chain to keep the work in the best possible condition? I know the "rules" - keep the work out of direct light, out of excessively damp or dry areas of the home, no close-range flash photographs, etc. But most home environments do not have museum-controlled humidity and track lighting, and I don't have the money to turn my home into a mini-Met. Maybe if I had an original Matisse or Pollock I'd do so, but right now my little collection will have to adapt as best it can to the conditions under which I can store it. I only hope, however, that if one of my emerging artists ever becamse famous and wanted to borrow a work from me, that they'd wouldn't be too upset at how I had stored their masterpiece.

As far as artists and dealers go, in my experience there have been some occasions where I wouldn't buy because I was concerned about the viability of the materials used. In one case a very nice gouache was described as being on "vintage paper," and I was afraid it was on the same kind of paper used in those 1930s paperbacks that you'd open today to find the pages at best discolored around the edges and at worst crumbled in your hands. When I asked the dealer about this, I was treated in what I thought a condescending way. In another case, without revealing too much detail, an artist had used another unusual medium that had the potential to disintegrate. I would have to pass on both of these for my little collection.

2/17/2009 09:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Insisting that a dealer sign a contract guaranteeing the longevity of an artwork is ridiculous. It exposes the collectors as litigious pricks and dangerous clients. None of us have heard the dealer's side in this, but I wouldn't be surprised if he/she decided not to guarantee the work simply as a means to rid himself of them and their self-righteousness.

The fact that, previously, a work had fallen apart on them is no excuse. A good collector takes risks. A boring, speculative one insists on "longevity guarantees".

I once purchased a sculpture from a young artist that, within a year, fell apart due to a particular climate condition in my loft. I had no problem going back to the dealer and asking what could be done to salvage the piece. Within a week, the artist had agreed to rebuild the piece in a structurally different manner which would never again be affected by the original condition. He thanked me for alerting him to the fact that his work didn't hold up under those conditions and he took that fact into account as he moved forward with more work in the series.

I was nice. He was nice. People forget that nice goes a long way.

By the way, Andrea Rosen is equally ridiculous with her abnoxious insistence that I sign a contract promising I will first offer the work back to her should I ever decide to resell. My lawyer laughs at her and her paper. And her obnoxiousness insures that she will be THE LAST person I offer the work to .

2/17/2009 10:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea of a "guarantee" of longevity for an artwork seems ridiculous. It isn't a car. There is an element of risk involved in trafficking in art for everyone, including the artist, the dealer, and the collector. If the artist is making object based work, then the artist has some obligation to be as conscientious as is reasonable within her process; the dealer is obligated to be honest about expectations of durability, and the buyer needs to accept that with experimental media comes a degree of unpredictability.

2/17/2009 11:33:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Hilaire Hiler has some interesting comments on supports.

He reckons canvas is the least durable support, closely followed by wood panels. In fact, in the conclusion of his chapter on supports in The painter's pocket book of method and materials, he goes so far as to say:

Don't use-
Canvas or wooden panels.
Use-
First-class watercolour paper.
Heavy cardboard of good quality.
Good Millboard.
Exploded and compressed hardwood fibre boards.
Aliminium.

Incidentally, we simply don't know how durable acrylics are. They haven't been around long enough. No-one knows how they'll be in several hundred years' time. You can make an informed guess, but you can't know.

If I were worried about durability, I'd use oil on a thick sheet of aliminium.

2/17/2009 11:49:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

It really does help to befriend a conservator, and run things by him when you are experimenting.

I once went to a show of a really hot artist in a very well-respected gallery, and the entire exhibition was drawings in a medium/ground combination that I knew for certain was going to disappear rapidly and completely if exposed to any UV rays at all. (I had done the tests for myself in years prior because it was a seductive medium). I knew the dealer and pulled him aside in private to tell him he needed to tell his customers to be especially careful about placement. I don't know what he told his customers, but I do know that the artist continued making those drawings.... they are now all over the world hanging in prominent collections.

This issue is going to become increasingly relevant as media becomes more varied and schools deemphasize process and technique.

I've seen many artists shrug their shoulders and say "That's for the conservator to worry about...", but one would think that, as an artist, you would want your work around in its original state for as long as possible, and would care about your own reputation.

2/18/2009 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It really does help to befriend a conservator, and run things by him when you are experimenting.

Thanks for that, Kate. I feel the same is true for dealers.

I was really beginning to feel disheartened reading the comments in this thread. This seemingly widespread "once I cash the check, it's their problem" attitude would make me seriously rethink buying any contemporary art at all.

Anonymous who wrote "The idea of a "guarantee" of longevity for an artwork seems ridiculous." but then goes on to describe exactly what I think are the responsibilities for each of the players best expresses the odd schizophrenia I sense throughout the comments.

I must accept that I set this up poorly by all the "it's ridiculous to expect a guarantee" comments here. A guarantee is what the dealer in question was offering all along. He simply rethought how confident he was about that when asked to put it in writing.

2/18/2009 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Consider this an open thread on the artist's and dealer's responsibilities, for work in any medium"

This is what the commenters have been doing. It seems like in retrospect you want people to deal with a very narrow question, something like, 'do you agree that dealers should be honest with collectors about the uncertainty of the longevity of a certain work?'

Who would disagree with that?

anono

2/18/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Kate said "... one would think that, as an artist, you would want your work around in its original state for as long as possible ..." I, for one, do want my work to last. So I learn everything I can about the materials I use. Of course, this means spending extra time on my art, and doing extra work on my art. But this doesn't interfere with the creative process. Rather, I find it frees me to focus on the creative process.

Edward said "This seemingly widespread 'once I cash the check, it's their problem' attitude." I agree that this attitude stinks. But all bad attitudes aside, longevity does indeed become the buyer's problem after the sale. This is why I attach a permanent label to the back of my pieces, that tells the buyer how to best care for my art - so it will last a long time for them.

2/18/2009 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous who wrote "The idea of a "guarantee" of longevity for an artwork seems ridiculous." but then goes on to describe exactly what I think are the responsibilities for each of the players best expresses the odd schizophrenia I sense throughout the comments."


Hi Ed, Anonymous here who wrote that comment. I respectfully disagree that it's inconsistent or schizophrenic, as you put it. Like I said, art from any perspective -- (artist, dealer, collector) is risky business, so to expect a guarantee (would this be like a warranty?) does seem like an absurd idea. This doesn't preclude some reasonable expectations, especially from the collector's standpoint. Perhaps that would be something like a "service contract". Maybe with a specific conservator who knows the artist's work, or even the artist herself if she's amenable, for a set amount of time. Whether there is an additional charge.. I would say no, but that could be negotiable too. The dealer should provide this routinely, I think, and it would probably go a long way to assure the collector.

2/18/2009 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

This is what the commenters have been doing

Fair enough...I am guilty as charged.

That still doesn't leave me any less stunned at the lack of responsibility being expressed by some here.

longevity does indeed become the buyer's problem after the sale

Not for all artists. Some artists see their work as their responsibility throughout their lifetime. (I know of artists who remade work that fell apart because it was so important to them that it exist as they envisioned it. Because they loved that piece and it was not OK by them that it was no longer loved by others.)

In fact, if an artist no longer cares about the state of their work once they sell it, I'm not so sure anyone else should care about their work at all.

2/18/2009 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

A different tack: What makes things fall apart?

1. Oxidation - causes paint films to chalk, makes colors fade or darken, paper to yellow and crumble, plastic to become brittle, metal to rust, etc. Acidic environments, the ph, and ultraviolet light are all culprits.

2. Heat, changes in temperature. - Can cause materials to melt, deform, become brittle, shrink or expand. In particular, wood is very durable but subject to dimensional changes as it's moisture content varies.

3. Adhesion - Materials improperly fastened together, or applied together in a manner where they separate. This includes paint to paint or paint to support adhesion but also any number of other potential attachment failures.

Without going on forever here, I think as an artist one can make a mental evaluation about the ways things might fall apart. If an artist is making an object with the intention it lasts for more than the duration of an exhibition then it is fairly simple to consider it's durability by just thinking about the ways it can fail mechanically. For most of the above problems there are solutions and procedural information which is available to artists.

I think the same considerations can be made by the gallerists or collector. Everything ages and deteriorates over time, the severity of this depends both on the original materials and how the artwork is conserved.

I seems like an artist who offers an artwork for sale needs to be forthcoming about the durability of the artwork. At the same time the artist may not know how time will affect the materials (Van Gogh aniline inks) or can't afford anything else (Kline's phone book ink drawings) so "they don't know".

2/18/2009 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Worth repeating:

In fact, if an artist no longer cares about the state of their work once they sell it, I'm not so sure anyone else should care about their work at all.

2/18/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

I said "longevity does indeed become the buyer's problem after the sale." Edward said "Not for all artists." Just to be clear, I wasn't denying that the artist has a responsibility to help the buyer correct a problem that might occur after a sale. Without a doubt, this is every artist's responsibility, whether they like it or not. I simply meant that any problem with longevity becomes a problem (a trouble) for the owner of the art - but not their problem (their responsibility) alone.

2/18/2009 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Larry R. said...

Tom Hering writes: "This is why I attach a permanent label to the back of my pieces, that tells the buyer how to best care for my art - so it will last a long time for them."

I have seen similar "care labels" from artists whose work I have purchased. And why not? not all collectors are equally educated, and providing information on how to care for a painting falls into the same vein as providing maintenance information on a purchase like a car or a computer. A while back I was thinking of buying a Japanese print from the 1890s for a particular location in my home. I changed my mind on where to hang the piece after reading that Japanese prints are particularly susceptible to light, as the spot I had first considered was close to a lamp.

Hypothetical question if a collector reads a care label like Mr. Hering's and responds by saying, "I am not certain (whether because of lighting, climate, space limitations, etc.) that I am able to store your piece of art under the conditions you recommend." In such a case, would a dealer be justified in refusing the sale?

2/18/2009 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have sold a good number of photographs mounted to aluminum. Artists make them. I sell them.

By now, everyone now knows that mounting a photograph to aluminum is not ideal. The photographic ground tends to shrink, creating an adhesive border around the photograph that will attract dust and trap small insects.

Additionally, in the case of B&W photographs mounted to aluminum, the edges begin to yellow with the yellowing moving toward the center until the white parts of the photograph turn completely yellow.

That said, dealers still hawk photographs mounted to aluminum. Take a walk around the Armory Show or the Art Basels and you'll see plenty. I am not going to stop selling them and I expect a collector to do their homework with regard to conservation processes.

I am only there to provide context for and sell the work. If your child splashes a juice box on an unframed Tillmans...shame on you for hanging it so low. If you hung your Uta Barth too near a window, don't expect a hug. And don't you dare come to me after 15 years and complain that your precious Doug Aitken is curling away from the aluminum on the upper right corner.

It's entirely up to the collector to decide whether they want to purchase work with such fugitive potential. If someone asks me if the work will last, I will say "Yes, the work will last long enough for you to fully enjoy." But I won't guarantee it. Does that make me a bad person?

2/18/2009 05:10:00 PM  
Anonymous claire said...

I have a question about how this issue affects pricing. How does the upfront statement "I can't say for sure how long this piece will last" affect the price point of the work in question, within the general price structure for the artist in question? A concise general example: an artist with established prices experiments with an ephemeral medium. How does the dealer factor the longevity question in the price of the experimental piece? (Maybe this leads to your next post, Edward.)

2/18/2009 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Anonymous said "If someone asks me if the work will last, I will say 'Yes, the work will last long enough for you to fully enjoy.'"

Why wouldn't you say, "Based on my knowledge and experience, the work will probably last in its original state for [estimated time] and then this or that is likely to happen. But here's what you can do about it (if anything) if and when this or that does happen"?

2/18/2009 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger patsplat said...

Given that the collector is probably older than the artist, I think it's fair to expect the artist to a.) know whether they will outlive the artwork and b.) be open about that fact to their supporters.

2/19/2009 08:25:00 PM  

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