Ten tips for making art that will last forever. Or at least a couple of years.

William Pope L.
Pop Tart of Evil: William Pope L.’s moldy toaster pastry on display at Volta.

Wandering around the art fairs this past weekend, we were struck (as usual) by the preponderance of pieces made with materials such as cardboard, pills, urban detritus, Pop Tarts (see above), and that most venerated of contemporary art material combinations: the animal carcass in formaldehyde—all of which seem to already be in some state of decay. Now, far be it from us to ever tell an artist what materials to use when making art. (We do love the idea of lard and tapioca being on exhibit at major museums). But don’t try to kid us into thinking that this stuff is gonna be around in a hundred years—like the gallerist we met at an art fair in Miami during Basel, who told us, with utmost earnestness, that the installation made of pizza we were admiring wasn’t going to rot because “it has a coating sprayed on it.”

In the interest of helping artists (and their fabricators) create pieces that last longer than five minutes, we have consulted with top scientific experts in the field of conservation, and produced a handy list of the top ten things to keep in mind when makin’ art.

Get the lowdown after the jump.


1. Putting food in your art is like saying come ‘n get it to the neighborhood vermin: Food will always be attractive to bugs, rodents, even some of your friends. Spraying it with “a coating” won’t do anything to stop that. It might keep a starving collector from sampling a slice during one of the endless art fairs, but roaches, ants, and mice are just as happy to eat Krylon as they are pizza margherita.

Cockroach
Look at me! I’m eating a priceless sculpture. (Photo by Neil T.)

2. Liquid does not stay put. It seeps, it evaporates, it forms weird tide lines—and it stinks like crazy after a while. Which is cool, as long as you’re willing to let people know that the thing will need to be maintained. If you’ve ever had a fountain, even the feng shui desktop variety, you’ll know what we mean…

3. Speaking of maintenance: Anything you put outdoors needs to be cleaned on a regular basis. We don’t care if it’s stone, bronze or concrete. Bird shit, dust, wind and sub-zero temperatures all take their toll. Ever look at your car when it’s in desperate need of a wash? Now imagine your priceless sculpture under those same conditions.

Dirty car
This is your sculpture on dust. (Photo by earthmagnified.)

4. Krazy Glue is called crazy for a reason. Do not use it to make things, and don’t try fixing something that breaks with it. It won’t last for more than a few days.

5. Plastic is not always fantastic: Unless you’re a chemist, don’t experiment with plastic mixes. If the directions on the bottle say the ratio is 2:1, believe them. Otherwise you’re going to be looking at lots of cracks, or a partial meltdown which will endow your piece with the adhesive powers of a sticky bun. The truth is, that regardless of whether or not you follow the instructions, no one really knows what’s gonna happen to all this plastic in a few years, let alone in a few decades.

Fly tape
One word: Plastic. If it ain’t made right, it’ll turn your piece into a giant fly trap. (Photo by Alex Flora.)

6. Speaking of decades, unless you’ve got a few of them to spare don’t try building anything that approaches the size of a Macy’s parade balloon on your own. Get a fabricator. Or an engineer. Someone who knows how to keep big things from falling down.

7. Stay away from materials—polishes, glues—that have Miracle in the title. There are no miracles. Only snake oil.

8. Heavy metal decay: Metals are great and can be pretty stable, but if you put two different metals right next to each other, without a spacer to keep them from touching, one of them will start corroding like crazy at the expense of the other. It’s kinda like watching Survivor at the most elemental level.

Rusted battery
Metal on metal, aka a car battery: it ain’t pretty.

9. Working with excrement: See entries #1 and #2. Besides, it’s disgusting. And it’s been done.

10. When in doubt, consult a conservator. Or just tell the gallerist/museum/buyer you have no idea whether something will last more than five minutes after it leaves your studio. The honesty could just make you more commercial.

Jason Rhoades Pearoefoam
What happens when you take Styrofoam, add dried peas, and mix with salmon roe? You get PeaRoeFoam, the stuff of preservation nightmares. Now on display at the Whitney Biennial.

Posted by San Suzie.

7 comments

  1. mbray

    really? no crazy glue? i was hoping to use gel cyanoacrylate (crazy glue gel) to adhere cleats to sintra.

  2. SanSuzie

    Don’t know what you mean by Cleats to Sintra, but really, cyanoacrylate adhesives are unstable, irreversible (which means that if you don’t get it right on the first try, you’re pretty much stuck.) what materials are we talkin’ about gluing to each other?

  3. SanSuzie

    I’ve heard that for eating it’s pretty safe. But for use in artwork, you want to completely encase it in a resin. By this we mean it should be saturated with a resin, like epoxy or urethane, the resin of your choice really. you want to make sure the shredded wheat is soaked through so no organic material is exposed to bugs. It won’t guarantee that it will work, but it will definitely be better than just putting a coating on top of it. You’ll want to experiment with some resins to see which gives you the best surface , because some of them will darken or be glossy. Happy to help out more once you know what you want to use.

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