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Restoration and Conservation at the Hamburger Bahnhof

The work, knowledge, and practices of museum conservators, and the conservation treatments they carry out, continue for the most part to be kept well out of view from the visiting public. The Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart hopes to help remedy this state of affairs with a programme of special exhibition projects, public restoration/conservation work, publications, talks, and conferences, which we hope will lend visitors insights into conservators’ work in the field of contemporary art. The following pages of this website are similarly designed to provide a closer look at the restoration/conservation work being undertaken at the Hamburger Bahnhof.

The Hamburger Bahnhof’s collection of contemporary art encompasses works boasting an extremely diverse array of techniques, media, and materials: processual, transformative, and ephemeral materials and/or material combinations, fragile and synthetic materials, as well as works featuring digital and electronic media, room-sized installations, and performance art present conservators with particular challenges, which need to be approached with renewed attentiveness if museums are to fulfil their duty of care.

Going well beyond ‘classical’ restoration techniques and collections care, conservators working in contemporary collections today must apply their skills to such matters as determining whether or not the deterioration and ageing of materials were intended by the artist; they are responsible for documenting, archiving, and ensuring the preventive conservation of artworks and their components; and they undertake to preserve and/or (re)construct artefacts that shed light on the process through which the artworks were created. Furthermore, the Hamburger Bahnhof has been collaborating closely with artists whose work it exhibits in order to create an archive of materials, with a view to systematically recording and documenting artistic technique and working methods.

This brief overview of the scope of conservators’ responsibilities in contemporary art attests to the need for the development of new approaches, practices, and methods, and for the establishment of new professional ethics that both acknowledge the new conditions faced by those working in the field and spark new ways of thinking. This in turn requires a wide-ranging discussion and the creation of networks to link up a whole range of individuals and institutions that can then arrive at an appropriate – and more up-to-date – approach to working with artistic materials. Restoration/conservation work would thus effectively function as an interface between the material in question and considerations regarding its conservation and preservation.