Securing a futurity: artwork identity and authenticity in the conservation of contemporary art

Castriota, Brian Eric (2019) Securing a futurity: artwork identity and authenticity in the conservation of contemporary art. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In the conservation of cultural heritage, the concept of authenticity remains deeply anchored to foundational theories of conservation formulated around “traditional” works of art where authenticity is seen to be predicated on the persistence of a discrete, material assemblage. The collections of many private and public art institutions now contain a growing number of contemporary artworks that involve or combine live performance, technology, and ephemeral or replenishable materials, which pose a challenge to material theories of conservation. Novel theories and practical approaches have embraced how these works may have multiple, equally genuine instances despite there being material and contextual variation among them. Within these frameworks, the authenticity of a manifestation is contingent on the artist’s authorisation or sanction and a manifestation’s perceived compliance with a score, derived by isolating a set of constitutive properties through artist interviews and empirical research.

This thesis traces the origins of existing ontological frameworks employed in fine art conservation and reformulates the concepts of artwork identity and authenticity. Drawing upon theoretical discourses from the fields of aesthetics and poststructuralist criticism read in the context of three works of contemporary art, authenticity is reframed as the degree to which an assemblage or event is regarded as an instance of the artwork it is purported to be. The notion of an artwork’s singular identity or abiding essence is recast as a construction that is performatively reified within the museum space through repetition. Musealisation processes aimed at making artworks durable and repeatable entities are reframed in Derridean terms as means of “centring.” This thesis examines the multiple centres or grounds that may emerge over time, fracturing the illusion of a work’s singular, self-same identity. Ontologies of artwork instantiation and tokening—concentrating on a work’s formal gallery manifestation and its embodiment of a fixed or finite set of constitutive properties—are expanded in recognition of the diverse means through which a work may be made present and may undergo change. Along these lines, this thesis proposes that the ethical remit of conservation might be reoriented away from enforcing score compliance, towards understanding how an artwork’s tokening links are (re)constituted among diverse audiences through time and securing the conditions that allow a work to continue becoming.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright issues the electronic version of this thesis is not available for viewing. Access to the print version is available.
Keywords: contemporary art, conservation, identity, authenticity.
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Funder's Name: European Commission (EC)
Supervisor's Name: Paterson, Dr. Dominic and Hermens, Dr. Erma
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Dr Brian Castriota
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-75130
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2019 11:08
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2020 22:32
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.75130

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