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Sanneke Stigter, Ethical problems and a solution in the conservation of a faded colour photograph in the work of Ger van Elk

Interim meeting ICOM-CC Photographic Materials working group's interim meeting. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, October 4-5, 2004

Date: Oct 4, 2004

Brightly lit exhibition spaces and unsuitable storage facilities alter most modern artworks in which colour photography is incorporated, as seen in the ‘paintings’ and sculptural installations by Ger van Elk (Amsterdam, 1941). His own ‘solution’ to this problem by reproducing his 30-year old airbrushed and painted photographs with the latest digital imaging techniques, as conducted recently, raises questions about authenticity, the meaning of materials, the original artist’s intention, patina and the like. Reflecting upon this recent conservation history, the artist’s past and current working methods, and through an elaborate interview, it becomes clear that the artist’s attitude towards conservation opposes the ethical code of conservation. To the artist the image is more important than its materialisation, whereas the conservator seeks to preserve the material state of an artwork as much as possible because this is the only true thing in connection to itself. If however the meaning of the artwork is lost because of irreversible material failure, an appropriate
conservation treatment has to be found.