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Made to last: the conservation of art

The conservation of art is commonly associated with the restoration of seventeenth century easel paintings or marble sculptures from antiquity. Materials used in contemporary art have challenged this perception and necessitated a shift in the way conservators interact with artists. Knowledge of the artist’s intent, creative processes, materials and techniques, and accurate documentation, are all important tools employed by conservators in the preservation of contemporary art.

The profession has adapted alongside artists in their use of materials, techniques and technology. The twentieth century saw a rapid increase in the availability of existing and new materials, particularly with the boom in mass production in the 1920s and mass consumption post World War II. Artists were now able to express their creativity in ways not previously possible.

An interdisciplinary approach to gathering information on the artists and materials is also important; communicating with curators, artist’s assistants, fabricators, scientists and the public is recognised as essential in developing decision-making strategies for conserving works of art. Establishing the artists’ intent involves ascertaining not only how the artist wants the work to look but also how the work is to be displayed.

Made to last: the conservation of art brings together five living contemporary artists who use a range of complex materials in their work: Brook Andrew, Penny Byrne, Juan Ford, Ghostpatrol and Claire Anna Watson. While some materials a conservator encounters may be unstable, a different kind of instability is evident in the themes of the five artists included in Made to last, involving the impact of humanity on the world - past, present and future.

There is no one solution to conserving contemporary art; an artist may have strong views on the conservation of their practice, and this view may vary for individual bodies of work. Documentation and dialogue regarding an artist’s intent and materials and techniques used are important tools for conservators, curators and private collectors to utilise in order to preserve important culture for future generations.

The tour of this exhibition is supported by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria and the Community Support Fund.

Made to Last: the conservation of art from NETS Victoria on Vimeo.

Watch an interview with five artists here. 

Brook Andrew, Penny Byrne, Juan Ford, Ghostpatrol and Claire Anna Watson are interviewed about their materials and techniques and their thoughts on the conservation of their work.

Camera: Josh McIvor. Equipment: Lemac.

Featured Artists

Brook Andrew

b. Sydney, 1970. Lives and works in Melbourne. My work challenges cultural and historical perceptions, using installation, text and image to comment...

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Penny Byrne

b. Mildura, 1965. Lives and works in Melbourne. I meticulously reconstruct manipulated figurines from damaged and antiquated ceramic objects into artworks that often...

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Juan Ford

b. Melbourne, 1973. Lives and works in Melbourne. My practice has consistently been engaged with opening up new possibilities for realism in...

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Ghostpatrol

b. Hobart, 1981. Lives and works in Melbourne. Experimentation has always been part of my work. My work spaces often turn into...

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Claire Anna Watson

b. Melbourne, 1977. Lives and works in Melbourne. Multidisciplinary in approach, my practice explores aspects of contemporary culture and its relationship to...

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Made to last: the conservation of art

A NETS Victoria exhibition in partnership with the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne and supported by Latrobe Regional Gallery

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