Walter Miranda
Plastic Artist

The durability of the work of art  

Published in the newspaper of plastic arts ARTEMPO in September 1997

Some times, we see published in newspapers and magazines the controversy about the fragility of some works of art concerning to the use of materials of uncertain durability and the argument that it is more important the appropriate preparation for the reception of the works than its fragility. I think that there is a series of misunderstandings in the polemic, because it is mixed production, circulation and commercialization of works of art, and the connection among the three is directly related with conflicting interests. In that sense, I would like to express some opinions about it. 

In first instance, art is a concept created by human being to explain the materialization of some forms used by him in the expression of his anguishes, longings, happiness and hopes or, his relationship (material, spiritual and philosophical) with the universe around him. In that sense, the production of a work of art is not directly related with its sale, but with the relationship, passive or active, established between it and its spectator. Until the beginning of the twenty century, the tradition demanded a work of art to be eternal. For so much, it was implicit that it should be constituted of materials of long durability. With the possibility to make researches using several materials provided by the new technologies, the plastic artist begun to create works of art exploring "new horizons", including conceptual ones. These factors facilitated the material execution of the works and popularized the creative processes. Inside of that new reality, the artistic work got conceptual importance.

Still on behalf of the relationship work/spectator, the production of a work of art involves a very strong concern with its circulation, what does that the work is treated as a material product. As the circulation, in many cases, creates appropriate circumstances for the deterioration of the works, it appeared, then, one more argument in favor of the perennial work of art. Closing the circle, this perennial increased the conscience that it was possible to commercialize that kind of product, situation that put it under the mercantilism, giving to the work of art a new characteristic, a merchandise. 

So, when a work of art is sold it is having been the reason of a transaction. This means that the salesperson should be clear about the limitations and qualities of the negotiated merchandise explaining to the buyer the technical and environmental conditions appropriated for the preservation of the merchandise/work of art, in other words, if it is accomplished with materials that guarantee some durability and under which circumstances. In compensation, the buyer should also have the minimum knowledge regarding the product to be bought in order to investigate it or, at least, he should know where to seek information on the characteristics of the product that he intends to buy, as usually he does when he buys an appliance or a canned food. 

The used comparison can be apparently unhappy due its material coldness that, seemingly, nothing has to do with a work of art. But, despite of the redundancy, it is good to reaffirm that the question is no longer about  only the work of art but also about a commercial transaction and it is worth to remind that nowadays, a lot of times, the artists depend on the businessmen's patronage or business institutions to accomplish their cultural and artistic projects. Therefore, the relationship between the private sector and the cultural production is a kind of relationship, as any other one, where the both parts have specific interests. On a side, there are pertinent concepts to the economical sector as competitiveness, profit and patrimony (what the works become after its acquisition, in an businessmen vision), on the other side are the creation freedom, the circulation of the work of art (so its accomplishment can be achieved enlarging the definition of "Art"), besides the commercialization of the work, after all, the artist needs to survive. 

But, in function of the new artistic and contemporary concepts, sometimes the artist thinks that the contemporary work of art, being conceptual, is a platonic product, in other words, the production of a work of art is not related to durability and perennial subjects and despite of its circulation and commercialization. As who buys the work, no matter how idealist is, wants the monetary investment guaranteed by the durability of the work, assuming the valorization of his collection, the conservation of it for the posterity, or a possible future negotiation, the nonsense appears and we return to the old commercial subject. 

Therefore, if the artist wants to sell his work, maintaining his  creative process which assists to his conceptual needs and maintain his intellectual dignity, I think it is logical that he tries to captivate the buyer. In that way, besides the creative integrity and quality, if he worries with the durability of his work, he will have one more argument that, probably, will conquer the buyer. It is strange to me to visualize a commercial transaction, therefore capitalist, where the seller/producer would not worry about the material qualities of the sold product because the buyer is who should have the obligation of taking care of the preservation of this product. 

I believe that if the artist does not worry about the durability of his work he should not also seek its commercialization, but just its circulation and, nevertheless, in certain conditions. For me this would be more coherent with the production of a conceptual art, because it would be above the market subjects that, truth need to be told, for a lot of times, have been disturbing the production and circulation of the contemporary art in the world. 

On the other hand, if the effects of the deterioration belong to the concept of the work, as many times happens nowadays, doesn't make any sense its preservation, because this contradicts the concept, since in that case, its existence stops being physical and only resists to the time due its registration through other means, such as, texts, videos, films, slides, pictures, etc. In fact, usually the contemporary artists make use of new materials instead of orthodox materials that do not assist anymore to their longings. This substitution does not disturb the production and the concept of the work and, if it is justifiable, it is also justifiable the substitutions which use materials that guarantee the durability of the work. 

January 1997
Walter Miranda




Walter Miranda
Ateliê Oficina FWM de Artes
All rights reserved.