Although many people once had an image of gendai bijutsu (contemporary art) as being difficult to understand and tended to avoid it, it is now becoming familiar even to Japanese people as they start to refer to it as “gendai art,” which seems to sound more approachable. It has become normal for art museums to exhibit and store works of contemporary art. However, the materials and techniques used in contemporary art vary tremendously from one piece of work to another, and art museums are now finding it increasingly difficult to effectively conserve and restore them using their traditional expertise. To discuss such issues concerning the conservation and restoration of contemporary art, the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems held a seminar on January 30th, featuring the following speakers: Ms. Ayako OGAWA, Project Researcher, The National Museum of Art, Osaka; and Mr. Yuichiro Taira, Project Associate Professor, Arts & Science LAB., Tokyo University of the Arts.
In her presentation titled “The Conservation and Restoration of Contemporary Art in Art Museums,” Ms. Ogawa addressed the issues facing art museums. The National Museum of Art, Osaka (NMAO), which she works for, actively collects and exhibits time-based media works (artworks that employ a temporal form of expression) including video recordings, installations, and performances, which do not simply fit into the framework of museums. Just days before this seminar, the exhibition Travelers: Stepping into the Unknown started at the NMAO (from January 21st to May 6th, 2018). Providing examples from this exhibition, including a work by Robert Rauschenberg and a performance-based work by Allora & Calzadilla, Ms. Ogawa outlined a range of tasks involved in hosting such artworks, from receiving to exhibiting.
Mr. Taira’s presentation was titled “Is Contemporary Art Such a Special Thing in the History of Art Conservation and Restoration?” and challenged the idea of how Western art and ancient Japanese cultural properties should be conserved or restored. The works of video art created from the 1960s to 1980s, most notably those of Nam June Paik, use cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors. Today, liquid crystal displays (LCDs) have become the dominant type of display, making it almost impossible to find a replacement CRT monitor. However, even if the material identity of the original work is lost after restoring it with an LCD instead of a CRT monitor, the core identity of the work, or its “DNA,” could be clearly communicated to the audience. Mr. Taira presented an argument from a broad perspective, even taking into account the ritual of Shikinen Sengu (a periodical transfer of god to a new shrine building) in Ise Shrine and other methods of passing down cultural properties that date back to ancient Japan. His argument extended beyond the topics of contemporary art and provided an opportunity for us to rethink how best to restore cultural properties, for which people have different approaches to inpainting, reworking, and hypothetical restoration depending on each property.
While most presentations delivered at the Department’s seminars usually cover topics related to art history, this particular seminar was devoted to the topics of conservation and restoration of art, which attracted many people from other departments. After the presentations, participants exchanged their views from different professional perspectives.