The management, protection and enhancement of an artist’s cultural legacy and heritage are issues which lie at the heart of the historic, artistic and legal debates in the art world and can have a significant economic interest.
On 28th and 29th November 2016 the international conference “Artists’ archives and estates: cultural memory between Law and Market” organised by Università Milano Bicocca, Brera Fine Arts Academy, NABA New Fine Arts Academy, in collaboration with the International Association of Artists’ Archives, dedicated to the theme of authenticity, conservation and management of artists’ creative and document legacy as well as the circulation of their works.
Dr Maddalena Disch, archivist and head of the Giulio Paolini archive, highlighted the reasons for creating an artist’s archive and why it is important to look after the artist’s legacy and what the artists donated externally during their years of activity. A clear and enlightening initiative that highlighted the archive’s multidisciplinary and constantly evolving activities. Some extracts from her speech are reported here below.
Towards future generations
“The point of the archive is to rescue everything that the artist is leaving as a legacy to the next generations from obscurity. Hence, rescuing and safeguarding is an ethical duty for the significant works of art and documents that assist with reconstructing and understanding the artist’s work. According to this basic meaning, the concept of archive is within the context of those operations and procedures aimed at guaranteeing the transfer of particularly significant goods and objects from the past into the future.
An archive is created so that a wealth of works of art and documents can survive the times they live in and remain accessible to future generations”.
Archiving is a work in progress in parallel to the artist’s activity
“The artist’s archive can also be created posthumously or while the artist is alive, or – and this would be the preferred option – it can be started in parallel with the artist’s activity.
If rather than associating the concept of the artist’s archive to an activity that only takes place afterwards, we wish to focus on the premise where the archive is built while the artist is still alive, the question regarding the reasons for an archive acquire different nuances: why create an archive for a living artist? What does it mean to archive a work in progress? Is it possible to interpret the archiving activity as a way of accompanying the artist’s daily activities and in parallel to a creative activity?
It is not a contradiction to archive the artist’s work in the course of its execution. How does one combine the traditional concept of archive’s static nature with the vitality and evolution of the artist’s creativity? Which action intervenes between past, present and future in the direct archiving of that ‘active building site’ that is the artist’s daily activity?
In this case, the question rather becomes: how can you create an archive following the artist in his or her work, step by step, during its development, keeping in mind it should not be a sterile conservation or mere data inventory but a work in progress ready to be revised, updated and completed”.
Curating an artist’s archive is a real job
“Archiving an artist’s activity means keeping up with something which is constantly evolving; it means facing relentless change, with almost daily additions of news, material, revisions and updates. Archiving this flexible and unstable material means interpreting the archive as a work in progress parallel to the artist’s evolution: it means carrying out a live recording of everything that happens to the works of art and their management. Collateral facts, data, values, constantly evolving details that are associated with the works of art: they move, deteriorate, change ownership, go to galleries, auction houses and merchants, they are exhibited, photographed, authenticated, studied etc. This all becomes archivable material”.
The digital era
“Collaboration with the artist allows us to understand the various aspects that must be linked and taken into consideration in order for the archiving to respect the meaning of the artist’s work. In order to archive this in real time and by using a systematic inventory of data collection and news, it is evident that one must have the right digital tools to both support the cataloguing and to fulfill all the archiving management needs.
Until now, archives have commonly been set up in order to draft a catalogue raisonné; yet in the present day and especially in the future, this won’t necessarily be the primary objective anymore. The paper catalogue is already obsolete the moment it comes out of the printers, it doesn’t allow for any updates, has huge production costs and a limited accessibility, it offers a limited description and number of images for each work. The digital archive, on the contrary, does not have any of these limitations and can host much more diverse information and kinds of works. It is an archive that can be accessed online and is available to anyone. Thanks to digital tools, the archive of the future will be able to become richer and more thorough than that of the traditional catalogue raisonné, which will become obsolete. Archiving and cataloguing could coincide in one format that can be accessed online, rich in contents and which can be updated extremely quickly.
Amongst the first noteworthy digital archives of contemporary artists there are Gerhard Richter and part of Daniel Buren’s catalogue raisonné, both conceived as a web solution.
It is essential to convince other professionals in the sector to welcome this change. If, on one hand, gathering data and organising it with a suitable organising system require the utmost care and research, on the other hand, exporting and sharing data deserves just as much attention. One of the main objectives of an archive is sharing, the possibility of providing data to third parties and sharing acquired knowledge with others”.
Why create an archive? Why is it important for an artist’s activity to be accompanied by suitable archiving?
“An archive is not just a collection of news, documents and testimonials but thanks to modern IT solutions, an archive is above all a network of data, linked to each other, accesible, ready to be grouped together, listed and exported in different ways.
The work’s identity, its technical sheet, handling, changes of ownership, exhibition history, peculiarities, meaning and related written documents, photographs, market value trend and other data can be found and traced extremily easily. So this doesn’t just involve the artist’s archive but every professional in the sector; from the collectionist to the gallerist, from the auction house to the museum, from the academic to the restorer etc”.
“The archive is the quintessential place meant to gather the artist’s legacy. It is not a passive subject limited to receiving what it is meant to receive, but an active subject called to play a key role. It is not merely a repository of heritage but a laboratory, a mine where research, study, analysis, communication, learning and transfer of knowledge constantly cross each other.
If the archive is therefore managed as a laboratory, this becomes a timeless work to be undertaken by several generations, with an incontrovertible aim: ensuring the survival and vitality of a certain heritage over time, on the background of an inevitable change, preserving the value for which the archive was created”.
“So in conclusion why create an artist’s archive? Because it is the only way to manage and enhance in a thorough and responsible way the artist’s activity both for today and the future”.
Communication Manager for MyTemplArt®
This post is also available in: Italian