Montabonel & Partners is initiating a think tank with the aim of examining the impact of a changing media paradigm on the practices of museums and galleries. In particular, such changes influence collection management, acquisitions, and conservation practices, as well as curatorial activities. The bourgeoning relationship between art and technology presents a number of important challenges to the way we perceive, display, collect, and care for artworks. This is not an altogether new development, as evidenced by exhibitions such as ‘Information’(1970) and ‘Les Immateriaux’ (1986) that propose a shift away from traditional artifacts and preference for ephemeral systems of information. In a post-internet age, the very question of the purpose and content of collections is under scrutiny: what to collect in a rapidly changing present, and how to ensure care for items of mutable materiality. Factored into this debate is the hybrid nature of many of today’s artworks; such hybridity has become an accepted norm since the 1960s when boundaries between different mediums began to become ever-more porous. Indeed, the certainties of the mid twentieth Century exemplified by school and style are entirely elided in the Contemporary; here, we see practitioners once rooted and schooled in one medium, crossing over into another with relative ease, leading to a certain loss of stability and not least of skills. Many artists today employ specialists in different fields to craft their work according to instructions. Additionally, the growth of performance art, as well as installation art from the 1960s onwards stresses the importance of artworks that are time-based and embodied, as well as spatially located, arguably having significant bearing on exhibition-making and collections. Whilst not precisely constituting new technologies, these forms are their equal in expanding and questioning the idea of the medium.
These quite distinct problems have significant consequences at the level of curation and conservation. There are no ready answers, but it seems essential that a series of extended conversations and debates are needed to push forward an agenda to address the urgent changes currently facing Contemporary art.