The Art World’s Plastic Surgeon
Previously published on Decorati.com
By Emily Waldorf
Contemporary art conservator Christian Scheidemann’s work is undeniably similar to that of a cosmetic surgeon, though he would rather be compared to a “urologist” according to Rebecca Mead, who wrote a fascinating article about him, “The Art Doctor,” in the May 11, 2009 issue of The New Yorker. Mr. Scheidemann is owner of the New York-based Contemporary Conservation, and his artists and clients include Matthew Barney, Peter Doig, Takashi Murakami, Elizabeth Peyton, Gagosian Gallery, Sperone Westwater, Rosa de la Cruz, Jerry Speyer, and many other bold-faced names in the contemporary art world.
A self-described Protestant who was not “Catholic” enough to sell paintings, his favorite birthday present was a small jar of International Klein Blue, the exceptionally rare blue pigment used by minimalist Yves Klein. He is part scientist, part artist, and clearly passionate about his métier.
Scheidemann works with a wide range of borderline absurd materials that are nevertheless commonplace in the realm of contemporary art, such as elephant dung, fat, chocolate, rotting fruit, and even poundcakes. He helped Robert Gober design his sculpture, “Bag of Donuts,” which was sold in 2006 for $240,000. He carefully removed grease from the donuts, treated them in a low-pressure tank of acetone, refilled them with acrylic resin, and finally treated them with cinnamon. His work is much more complicated than that of a traditional conservator who typically works with more durable materials such as oil paint, marble, and bronze.
Mead explains how his work is anything but conventional,
In the mid-twentieth century, artists routinely began working with nontraditional materials: Joseph Beuys made works with fat or felt; Nam June Paik built sculptures out of television sets. Often, the purpose was to reject the traditional materials of the arts- bronze, marble, oil paints – and the bourgeois value themselves, it falls to conservators like Scheidemann to make fat and felt last as long as bronze or marble – or at least for twenty years, when the next generation of conservators can apply their own new techniques.”
At the end of the article, Scheidemann admits something that we all know but would rather not admit: that nothing lasts forever. The best thing collectors can do to preserve their works is to control the environment where they are displayed or stored and schedule periodic, minimally invasive procedures. The best conservation is imperceptible, reversible, and never undermines the integrity of the work of art. Much like the best plastic surgery.
Filed under: art services, collecting, contemporary art, galleries | 41 Comments
Tags: art doctor, Christian Scheidemann, conservation, contemporary art, Contemporary Conservation, Elizabeth Peyton, Gagosian Gallery, Matthew Barney, Peter Doig, Robert Gober, Takashi Murakami, The New Yorker, Yves Klein