Christian Scheidemann, Founder and President of Contemporary Conservation Ltd. is on Our Radar
In a report which traced the contemporary art market over 20 years, CEO and Founder of ArtPrice.com thierry Ehrmann said of contemporary art, “Formerly a very small segment of the overall Art Market, the Contemporary segment now accounts for 15% of the global Art Market. Worth just under $2 billion in auction turnover – versus less than $92 million in 2000 – it has now overtaken both the Old Masters and 19th century.”
The September 9th in-person opening of New York City’s art fair, showcasing works from both modern masters and cutting-edge contemporary artists seemed a resounding success with publications such as The Art Newspaper saying of the Armory Show’s VIP Day, “Visitors and collectors who were eager to purchase art did so with gusto during the opening, with some booths coming close to or completely selling out of work.” Within the same week, additional gallery exhibition openings and block-buster auction house previews heralded a nostalgic return to a pre-pandemic art viewing and buying environment.
Not to lessen the enthusiasm and celebratory tone, especially in light of the double meaning of event happenings at this moment in our history, the words of art insurance Claims Director Colin Quinn at Tokio Marine Highland continued to ring loudly and even proved true, “When art moves it presents higher incidents of damage.”
This took me back to years of communicating about art insurance with focus on caring for works of art. I couldn’t help but wonder after living through our recent challenging period, whether artists, collectors, galleries and stewards of contemporary art were asking the right questions, about maintaining their works in premium condition, as they packaged and shipped them to and from sundry exhibition destinations.
Thankfully, the work of Founder and President of Contemporary Conservation Ltd. Christian Scheidemann and his team, now located in Brooklyn Navy Yard, address caring for contemporary works, especially those made with unconventional materials. Assigned a medical moniker “The Art Doctor” by the art world he services and members of the media, Scheidemann’s expertise is widely sought after by leading artists, collectors, galleries and institutions that have come to rely on his decades-long conservation practice in dealing with unique materials which make up contemporary works of art.
Whether addressing chipped plaster on a sculpture, material decay, pest infestation, replacing elephant dung in a delicate art installation, dust accumulation on art, or applying stabilizing compounds to bring art back to its original character, the German-born and trained Scheidemann is renowned for his innovative contemporary art conservation techniques and credited by his art world contemporaries for pioneering processes to treat some of the world’s most challenging materials and artistic visions.
We caught up with Mr. Scheidemann for a refresher on contemporary art conservation today, new advances in the field and the areas which students with interest in art conservation should focus their studies:
Q. Contemporary artists today are experimenting more and more with unconventional materials such as tree barks, tree trunks and blood in making contemporary works of art; do you see the conservation field adapting to these changes?
CS: Indeed, some artists today are experimenting with what we call ’non-traditional’ materials, i.e. soap, butter, latex, sugar. blood and excrements - and always in different context and with different meaning. Working with chocolate today can for one artist mean emphasizing on colonialism and exploitation, for another artist it touches on bulimia and anorexia, and another artist may refer to it just as a very seductive sculpting material, but of course with the notion of confection after famine in the post-war era.
Some artists love to experiment with the ephemerality of these materials, but then - contrary to the radical art in FLUXUS in the sixties, where decay was seen as an interesting process and there was hardly any art market anyways - today I often see artists who play with the notion of decay, but want to control the process and stop it at a certain time. To better understand this process, conservators can be helpful for artists. Our background is mainly scientific; to explore the material and process of the making can help to reveal the meaning of contemporary art.
Q. What are some simple caveats you can share with collectors to protect their art collections made of natural material - early on - before they end up at your conservation center?
CS: Every collector should understand that buying art is different from buying a car; art has no warranty. What I would advise is to study the artwork carefully, read the handling instructions, consult with professionals and store or display the artwork in a climate-controlled environment. Light levels should be kept at moderate scale, and a monochrome painting should best not be installed near a narrow hallway; the scratch of a casually worn handbag is often impossible to remove.
Q. Has advancements in technology helped with conservation techniques and solutions?
CS: Materials used in conservation are often by-products from other industries; UV stabilizers for instance, are developed for large industries in plastic production. Our requirements for the use in the protection of artworks is very specific, and often has to be micro-engineered. Big achievements however have been made recently, with the development of modified algae-based gels for the cleaning of delicate surfaces. Dust and accretion can just be extracted - instead of rubbing or brushing.
Q. Have you witnessed different kinds of damages to art over the pandemic period?
CS: No - not really. Probably less art has been damaged during that time of pause; most damages happen during transit and handling, and the pandemic was very quiet in that regard.
Q. Have you considered what damages to NFTs can look like?
CS: Artworks are always a representation and historical document of the time in which they were created. While the image may persist, the technology on the receiving end will eventually change; computers and phones will migrate to new features and the experience will be different. But who knows, maybe the idea of uniqueness, originality and historicity will be obsolete one day - or it is today!
Q. For young people considering a career in conservation, do you recommend a science focus?
CS: A science background is definitely needed for a career in conservation - ideally a combination of science and art history.
Q. This is such a specific discipline, why art conservation?
CS: Art conservation combines technical skills and material knowledge with the study of art history. And - we are actually so privileged to touch the artworks. This is what I missed most during the first months of the pandemic - being able to touch art works.
We extend deep appreciation to the good “Art Doctor” for taking the time for a talk about the world in which he operates.
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