New Durabilities of Art in the Age of Its Technoscientific Restoration

Grace Kim-Butler

How do scientists study the aging of artistic and heritage materials? How do they test whether and how material properties change, and how do scientists use their laboratory expertise to restore them? Using ethnographic and archival research, this project maps how scientists have understood the chemical, biological, and physical stability of cultural artifacts since the start of the twentieth century, and have developed technologies to reverse their deterioration. It seeks to understand how scientists therefore navigate central topics in art history and heritage preservation such as an artist’s intent or an object’s historicity. It explores the intersections of art, industry, and environment, and the ways in which aesthetic qualities of material culture emerge through technoscience. At stake is the question of who gets to participate in the caretaking of art and cultural heritage.