The Material and Social Lifespans of Contemporary Artworks

Award Holder

Dr Christopher Wright
Goldsmiths, University of London

Partner Organisation

White Cube

Doctoral Student

Katrina Crear

This Collaborative Doctoral project documents the material lifespans of contemporary art objects from production, across their life trajectories as they are exchanged, maintained and documented, to the ways that they materially age, are remade, or physically cease to be. At its most basic, it is a survey of a vast range of materials, and broad production techniques, that contemporary artists are utilising to make art. As an anthropological study it rests on the assumption that art objects cannot be disengaged from the persons who make, possess and know them. It is also therefore, a survey of the experiences and knowledge of the many varied persons who may become involved with, become responsible for, and make decisions for, the material lifespans of artworks from fabrication, exhibition and collection, to conservation, care and maintenance.

The practical objective for the project has been to develop an archive at White Cube of information related to artists’ intentions for the material care of their work and technical information over physical production, installation and long-term maintenance. This information is valuable - currently and for art history - for understanding how artworks, produced with the many varied materials of contemporary art, should be displayed for each new exhibition and installation. In that decisions over conservation are usually based on this diverse range of information, the project seeks to contribute to theories and practice for contemporary art conservation, collections’ care and management.


Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. See Arts & Humanities Research Council website.