Most artists, curators and collectors can agree on the importance of art conservation. But the politics of "reworking" an artwork, whether altering the surface or creating a new piece from an old concept, gets complicated.
The Art Newspaper recently reported on California-based minimalist sculptor Richard Serra's entanglement with the subject. According to an independent curator, the artist threatened to withdraw one of his drawings from the collection of Eli and Edythe Broad if he is not allowed to rework it.
Tinkering with a piece post-production is allowed under the The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which gives artists permission to alter a piece if they regard it as damaged in some respect. VARA also gives artists permission to disclaim previous works if the conditions they seek are not fulfilled. Yet those opposing the act, like Magdalena Dabrowski, who curated a Serra exhibition at the Met, argue that historical accuracy is put at risk as a result.
When he recently reworked "The United States Government Destroys Art," a drawing originally made in 1989, Serra refused to acknowledge the date of the piece's modification because its concept remained the same. According to Dabrowski, the artist threatened to "remove the work from the exhibit and withdraw it from the [owners’] collection."
This isn't the first time Serra altered one of his pieces, however. For his 2011 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the artist displayed two dates alongside his reworked drawings. He later explained: "I think it’s my responsibility to make sure the work exists in the way I want it to exist.” This statement is very much in step with the sculptor's guiding philosophy. He once told the Los Angeles Times: "I would just as soon that the process evaporates and you have to deal with the experience of the work."
What do you think, readers? Do artists ultimately get creative claim over their works or should the owner have a say in what happens? Should an artist be allowed to disclaim or discredit a work of art after the fact? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.
See works from the exhibition "Richard Serra: The Drawings" at the Met below:
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