Unstable Materials and Conservation: The Art of Preserving Decomposing Objects

With the introduction of unstable materials into the construction of contemporary art, conservators face a completely new set of challenges. How does one protect and stabilize an object that, by nature, is meant to decompose? The job is comprised of three actions: prevention, conservation, and restoration, “Contemporary art is often so vulnerable that you cannot really restore it but only prevent damage,” states Christian Scheidemann, who has been working as a freelance conservator since the early 80s.

Scheidemann, referred to as “The Art Doctor” by the New Yorker, is an expert in the practice of conserving contemporary art, and particularly in the conservation of contemporary art made with unstable materials, such as cake, donuts, chocolate, soap, and salt. His experience in contemporary art has given Scheidemann a unique perspective on the reach of art conservation. He shared his stories at a 2015 graduate seminar with the ArtCenter College of Design MFA program, covering projects from conserving Robert Gober’s Bag of Donuts to Robert Morris’ Untitled (L-Beams), exhibited with Gallery System’s client The Jewish Museum for their exhibition Primary Structures.

Learn more about Scheidemann’s experience with conserving the un-conservable here, here and here.


About the Author:

Cat Bradley became part of the Gallery Systems team in 2016, and has a background in art museums and diversity policy for nonprofits. Cat holds an MA from the University of Oregon in Arts Administration for marketing, a grad certificate in Nonprofit Management, and a BA from the University of Central Florida in Art History, specializing in public art and 20th Century Mexican Art. When she’s not writing case studies or analyzing market data, you can find her wandering the art museums and galleries of New York City, squeezing veggies at the Union Square Famers Market, or playing the ukulele at open mic night on the Lower East Side.