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Friday, May 31 • 4:00pm - 4:20pm
(Contemporary Art Session 2) Cow guts. The conservation of two contemporary artworks by Doris Salcedo and by Ursula van Rydingsvard

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In recent years, two artworks were treated at the studio of Contemporary Conservation in New York City, which were both reflective of challenges conservators for contemporary art are facing:

Both contain inner tissue of the cow: bladder and gut. Both intestines were stretched and sewn to the sculptures' bodies while still wet and elastic; both showed more than desired shrinkage after they dried.

In the first case, the focus was to develop a method of conservation to offer an alternative to the artist's recommendation of replacement. In the second case, however, the artist approached us with questions about aging reactions and treatment solutions for an artwork still in progress.

The artwork, Atrabiliarios (1997), by Columbian artist Doris Salcedo, came to the studio in poor condition after a long period of installation in an uncontrolled climate. Since many works from the same series have shown extensive shrinkage of the cow bladders, the artist had already developed a maintenance concept, which consists mainly of the replacement of cow bladders when shrinkage has progressed to an unacceptable degree determined by the artist. This would include torn edges, losses and layer separation. The method of exchanging original with new material, although as a technique quite common in contemporary art, was challenged by our studio and a suitable alternative was researched extensively. The Decision-Making Model (1997/99, Foundation for the Conservation of Modern Art) was used to determine and evaluate a method that would sustain the artworks integrity. The artist was contacted and she provided us with detailed instructions about her “conservation procedure”; Professionals from related fields and conservators with different areas of expertise (as an example, taxidermists and conservators from The American Museum of Natural History) were contacted.

The original cow bladders in Atrabiliarios were sustained and the artwork was re-installed in a climate-controlled environment. The developed conservation method of the cow bladder will be explained step by step and discussed.

For the second artwork “still in the making”, Ursula van Rydingsvard, a New York City based artist, contacted our studio with a simple question: how can one preserve cow guts in a way that they will not shrink and tear?

Two conservators from Contemporary Conservation visited the artist's studio, where her questions and artistic aims were presented and explained in great detail. This is an important step, as it is our goal to support her creative process without influencing her artistic ideas with aspects of conservation.

The discussion led to contacting a number of professionals. Of particular interest was the preparation of seal intestines for the making of raincoats used in Inuit Culture.

Various approaches were developed and tests were initiated, experimenting with fresh cow stomachs from a local food supplier. Although first results provide directions, the investigations are still ongoing. The approach and results, maybe even the artwork by Ursula von Rydingsvard, will be presentable in the talk.

In conclusion, the challenges presented in the preservation of an already existing artwork and of a work in progress will be investigated and discussed. The complex assignment of both, the conservators and the artists, imply many aspects of careful assessment and step-by-step evaluation in each case.

avatar for Mareike Opeña

Mareike Opeña

Associate Conservator, Contemporary Conservation Ltd
Mareike Opeña joined Contemporary Conservation in 2010. She graduated from the University of Applied Sciences Cologne/ Institute for Conservation Sciences in 2009 with an emphasis on paintings and sculptures. She wrote her thesis, "The Effects of Solvents on the Physical Properties... Read More →

Friday May 31, 2013 4:00pm - 4:20pm EDT
JW Marriott White River Ballroom F 10 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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