Living artist, living artwork? Ethical problems in the conservation of colour photographs in the work of Ger van Elk

Sanneke Stigter, in: IIC preprints ‘Modern Art, Modern Museums’ (2004), Bilbao, Spain, pp.105-108

Current conservation ethics, based on the preservation of authentic material, are of little importance to an artist like Ger van Elk, to whom the conceptual message is more important than its material realization. This is illustrated by a recent conservation project in which the artist was involved. Ethical questions are raised, and judged against the background of an art-historical survey of the meaning of the artist's work in relation to the materials and techniques used. When preventive conservation fails and the museum seeks a solution in cooperation with the artist, the end result might be an authorized copy but what is left of the artistic value? Since photographic materials have their own characteristics and often show the effects of time, an alternative form of conservation treatment is proposed with respect to the original material. Coloured light is used as a 'retouching medium' to enhance a severely discoloured photograph which forms part of Roquebrune, a sculpture by Ger Van Elk from 1979.