In order to restore or conserve a work of art, you have to redo it.You have to paint over the painting, rebuild the statue, or buy another piece of hardware to replace the found object.Regardless of how cunning or clever you are, you are forging the artists work.It will be your hand, not the artist’s.Once done, however atomically close it may be, you will have a replica and not the original work. Henceforth, whoever sees it will be examining the work of the paint by numbers conservator, not the artist.
There are discussions about the nature and quality of restoration.How true it is, how faithful, but they are discussing the quality of forgery, not art. There are innumerable examples of poor or questionable restorations:Modern paint on medieval paintings, the removal of varnish applied by the artist, but that is not my point. Even if the restoration is perfect, the masterpiece had cracked, splintered, worn, became filthy as it was. Whatever follows is no longer that masterpiece.
It seems better to lose the original work to restoration rather than age.Restoration employs conservators.The forgeries continue to be available to academics and credulous patrons.Yet, why don’t they create a complete and separate replica?
This question gives the lie to conservation.The destruction of the original determines the value of the replica.It is all about value.The true horror of restoration is the loss of new art.Sadly, the available investment for art is fixed.As that finite amount is sucked up by these parodies, growing older, more established and more valuable with age, new art must suffer.Our very attachment to the old chokes the new.Before, oblivion would liberate funds for creative investments, now thanks to the conservationists the hand from the grave is perpetual, dragging down the art world.
Consider the challenge a new artist must face.Is the work beautiful?Does it help establish a new movement?Will it eventually find itself entombed in some theory of art history?Is it significant?How does it stand against the works of the museums? Its very originality may give pause.Perhaps it is too derivative. How can anyone purchase a work without feeling fleeced? Does anyone still have the standard of how does that look on my wall?
I have heard artists cost their paintings based on hourly wage.Yet once a museum obtains it, the value is completely different.This is because museum art is donated rather than purchased.Museums, like all nonprofits, exist primarily for the avoidance of taxes.When that art is deposited and displayed in these morgues, just as in ancient Egypt, preservation becomes essential to maintain the illusion of responsibility.
Recognizing the conservator as art’s enemy and the museums as institutions of privilege, what should the artist do?Paint only on velvet?Sculpt in soapstone?Produce works so easily reproducible or obviously damaged that people will only use them for decoration.Create art that people will purchase without collecting.