The focus of my research is on post-1960s photographic artworks onto which another medium has been applied, more specific photographs that have been overpainted. The material aspect of these so-called photo-works makes them unique, non-reproducible objects. My theoretical reflections therefore concentrate on the tension between image and object in photography with a special interest in the notion of the surface of a photograph and its philosophical implications for the theory of photography.

Focusing on the surface of a photograph means touching automatically upon discussions of materiality, objecthood, sensitivity and deterioration. In the case of the studied photo-works, two ways of changing the surface of the photograph are apparent: the intended additions made by the artist and the unintended changes resulting from degradation. The question arises on the impact of these changes on the experience of the artwork by the viewer and in case of deterioration finally the intended meaning of the work.

Analysing and studying photo-works enables me to conduct profound theoretical research into the various aspects of the photographic surface, which doesn’t exist in such coverage to date. My particular interest belongs to the photographic work (and installations/ paintings that include photography) of Anselm Kiefer, Ger van Elk and Tacita Dean.

This research is part of the Science4Arts research project, see detailed information below.

/// SCIENCE4ARTS Research Project

Photographs & Preservation: How to save photographic artworks for the future?

This research program focuses on a corpus of post 1960 photographic artworks to which different materials were added or unconventional techniques applied. Apart from the ’normal’ aging processes, mixed media photo-works are affected by specific (chemical) interactions between the different materials and between object and environment, the chemical instability of analogue photographs and the resulting irreversible degradation. All this greatly influences appearance and has serious consequences for conservation and display.

Furthermore, challenging questions are posed to conservators and art historians: what is the significance of the unusual superposition of another medium to the photograph, its subsequent aging and the differential material changes in the understanding of artworks? To cope with these complex problems of material instability, environment and historical evidence, a multidisciplinary approach is necessary that integrates Art History with Conservation Science and Chemistry. This joint approach is applied to photo-works for the first time to such an extent. The aim is to identify and examine the undesirable material interactions that affect Art History findings, conservation and thus ultimately the display and interpretation of culturally important and unique photo-works, in order to formulate a conservation strategy and proactive approach to deal with future problems.

A close collaboration between art historians, conservators, curators, chemists and artists provides the broad context in which the collaborative art historical and chemical analysis of photo-works is performed. This project will finally help to develop a Decision-Making Model to understand the relationship between the photo-work’s meaning and the changes in its physical and material features in different concrete contexts, with the combined knowledge from chemical analysis, conservation science and art theory.

The Research Team

The research consists of three inter-related sub-projects—two of which relate to PhD research, mine at Leiden University (under supervision of Prof. Dr. Kitty Zijlmans and Dr. Helen Westgeest) and Bas Reijers' at Utrecht University Utrecht (Debye Institute, Prof. Dr. Leo Jenneskens). The third sub-project will be conducted by paper conservator Monica Marchesi at the Stedelijk Museum under supervision of Drs. Sandra Weerdenburg, Head of Conservation, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Drs. Hripsimé Visser, Conservator of Photography, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Corpus of Works

The artifacts are mainly post-1960s photographic works to which different materials were applied. Included are significant works by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Jan Dibbets, Gilbert & George, Anselm Kiefer, Ger van Elk and Aernout Mik from the collections of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven and Kröller-Müller Museum, among others. Foreign museums of contemporary art and universities are making their expertise in the field available, thereby also contributing to the research.

Parties Involved

Leiden University; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Utrecht University (Debye Institute for Nanomaterials Science); Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Foto Restauratie Atelier VOF, Amsterdam; the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg; Eyes on Media, Amsterdam; Lüdwig Museum, Cologne; Getty Museum, Los Angeles; TNO, Delft; Foundation for the Conservation of Contemporary Art; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Tate Gallery, London; University of Amsterdam; Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam; Eye Film Institute Nederland, Amsterdam; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Rochester Institute of Technology, New York; De Verbeelding, Purmerend.

NWO Science4Arts

The NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) is helping to fund research projects as part of its Science4Arts program, which supports multi-disciplinary research into the conservation and restoration of art. Artworks are permanently vulnerable to change: their material compositions are affected by chemical and material processes; their physical contexts change and, with each successive generation, the viewer’s experience of works is different. Both the art object and the experience of art are thus determined by a highly complex inter-relationship of material and immaterial conditions. In theory and in practice, this influences our interaction with art objects and subsequently the views and considerations regarding degradation, conservation, restoration, and the presentation and transference of the different values. The Science4Arts research program focuses on changes in art, including the chemical and physical dynamics of the object, its meaning, its content and its context. The main focus of the project is on the collaboration between conservators, art historians and chemists who jointly research an object or related objects within the museum context. The program strives to further develop and reinforce the exchange between the research institutions and the museum sector. Two research areas are pivotal to the program: older art and modern and contemporary art. While the Netherlands plays a leading role in conservation and restoration, this program aims to strengthen and expand this pioneering position through an approach in which the different disciplines chemistry, art history and restoration are integrated.

In addition to support from the NWO, the project will receive structural contributions from:
The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, all in The Netherlands.