When does an artwork cease to be original?

I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) yesterday for several hours and as I walked in I saw that three artists/restorers were at work retouching/restoring the huge canvas on the ground floor by Marc Chagall, “A Wheatfield on a Summer’s Afternoon.” Later, as I was looking at the works of Marcel Duchamp I noticed on the wall plaque that this famous “Fountain” was actually a 1950 replica of the 1917 original and that, similarly, his 1919 work “50cc of Paris Air” had been “broken and later restored.”

As I was contemplating these pieces the thought came to me – when does an artwork cease to be original? Using these three examples I can understand that artworks deteriorate and may need to be restored, and I fully see the requirement to “preserve” Chagall’s work by retouching, but at what point does it become the restorers work? The original brushstrokes are not preserved. Are the pigments used exactly the same composition and color as the original – in every stroke?

This concept becomes even more problematic in the case of the Duchamp examples.  

When “50cc of Paris Air” was repaired the glass vial may well look the same (well, sort of – it’s hardly an invisible mend), but was it repaired in Paris, in the same place that Duchamp created it? And even if so, it certainly would not contain the same air from 1919 which was no doubt differently polluted than more modern atmosphere. 

170316_Duchamp_ParisAir
Finally, in the case of making a replica piece, what are we to make of this? Is it original art or is it not? I assume that as long as Marcel Duchamp was involved in the process then it is still original, albeit derivative, but if not then is it simply a “worthless copy” created by someone else?

170316_Duchamp_Fountain

And what of the digital world? Almost all my 2-D art is created electronically and exists in multiple backup copies as binary data stored on my laptop and other drives. Where is the original art in this case?

So, a lot of questions – does anyone have any thoughts on this?

~Richard

 

#r2bcheerful2 – Buddy Holly

OK, I was going to get smart with this one, but failed. Obviously I am not going to be able to take a photo of Buddy Holly, or even any memorabilia associated with his hometown of Lubbock, TX. I thought I’d be a smart ass and take a photo of some holly buds in my garden, but that was not possible either. Instead I looked up to see if there are any PD images I could use and I found one on Wikipedia from Brunswick Records. I restored it by removing the dust, blurs and the ripped sticker in GIMP, and then thought I’d get creative and turn it into a cyanotype and a  photochrom style image. I don’t know which I like best so I posted all together.

160919_r2bcheerful2-buddy_holly_brunswick_records_restore_4

Whatever way you look at Buddy Holly certainly looks cheerful in this promotional image and his music is undoubtedly some of the most influential over the last six decades in forming rock and roll and subsequent genres, as well as helping define the whole relationship between bands, their managers and their record companies.

Buddy Holly – his music will always a reason to be cheerful!

~Richard
#r2bcheerful #r2bcheerful2

Lucy the Elephant

Billed variously as “the world’s largest elephant” and optimistically as “the largest zoomorphic architecture in the world” (hmm, if you’ve never heard of the Sphinx, or the Kakadu Crocodile Inn, perhaps?), Lucy the Elephant stands facing the Atlantic Ocean at Margate, New Jersey.

This wonderful old wooden structure, sheathed in tin sheeting, was built in 1881 by James V. Lafferty and used as a tourist novelty and to show the local real estate to prospective buyers for an ever-expanding Atlantic City in the late 19th century.  The six-storey building was originally called the Elephant Bazaar and was topped with a howdah to afford views of the area.  It formed part of a larger complex including Turkish baths as can be seen from this restored PD image, taken in the 1890s:

LucyElephant

The building picked up the name “Lucy the Elephant” in 1902 after it had been sold and was used for many purposes over the following decades.  By 1969 Lucy was in a poor state and was to be demolished, but a group of local enthusiasts banded together and saved the structure, moved her about 100 yards and repaired her  internally as well as providing a new  exterior “skin”.

She was subsequently designated a National Historic Landmark (amazing what difference a few years makes!) and is now maintained by the Save Lucy Committee who look after her every need!

I confess to never having heard of this wonderful piece of eccentric history until a few months ago, and I plan to visit her at some point in the near future and update this post with a few more contemporary images.  Stay tuned!

~Richard

 

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