The season’s final Salon brought together two curators and a conservator to talk about the systems involved when a complex body of work moves from the contemporary to the historical—a topic peculiarly relevant to the work in ICA’s current exhibition Jason Rhoades, Four Roads. Founder of Contemporary Conservation Ltd. Christian Scheidemann described some of the difficult decisions contemporary art conservators face: Should a work of art be conserved so that it looks like new, or should it continue to bear the traces of its history? What happens when the artist’s ideas conflict with those of the work’s owner? Scheidemann proposed that contemporary art is not finished when it leaves the studio but rather enters a transitional period—a kind of art adolescence, and he showed how an artist’s intention can be misinterpreted—even destroyed—by those charged with its care. The audience gasped at the sight of one of Joseph Beuys’s most famous editions, a light bulb plugged into a lemon, in which a real piece of fruit had been replaced with a plastic one. Curator Lynne Cooke spoke about the importance of the context in which curators present artworks, regretting the way artist Judith Scott’s so-called “outsider” status has overshadowed the work itself. ICA’s own Jason Rhoades, Four Roads curator, Ingrid Schaffner, took the audience on a tour of her research for the show, revealing how her curatorial process systematically saturates her in knowledge, information, and a sense of the work, until everything begins to feel part of its web of associations and imagery. Nimbly guided by moderator Alex Klein, who conceived and organized ICA’s Salon series, the audience jumped in immediately with questions, comments, and informed contributions, wrestling with some of the biggest questions an exhibition can raise: When does the artist cease being responsible for a work of art? What are the responsibilities of curators and conservators towards the artist and the work? Questions kept returning to the Rhoades installation itself as everyone tried to wrap their heads around how questions of conservation, insider/outsider status, and curatorial research came to bear on the installation in the galleries, and on the work once it leaves ICA.
ICA Salon SeriesJason Rhoades, Four Roads