New Research and Developments in the Conservation of Computer-based Art

Deena Engel and Joanna Phillips
The Electronic Media Review, Volume Five: 2017-2018


This joint paper introduces the Guggenheim initiative “Conserving Computer-based Art” (CCBA) and the museum’s collaborative case study research with faculty and students from the Department of Computer Science of New York University’s Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences. New methods of artwork examination and condition assessment are explored based on the authors’ cross-disciplinary study and source code analysis of computer-based artworks from the Guggenheim collection, including installations, sculptures and Internet art. The talk gives special attention to the development of conservation documentation that is informed by computer science methods and aims to serve future decision-makers of different disciplines, ranging from programmers to collection caretakers and art professionals. Guided by the objective to accommodate and establish the care of computer-based art within the greater field of contemporary art conservation, the authors investigate the conceptual anatomy and functional dependencies of the studied computer-based artworks and identify analogies and differences between them and traditional conservation objects. The authors discuss the applicability of existing conservation ethics, principles and practices to the care of computer-based art and map the needs for further research and best practice development within the field of contemporary art conservation. The research discussed in this paper presents an integral part of the Guggenheim’s current CCBA initiative to survey, save and study 22 computer-based artworks in the museum’s collection.

Joanna Phillips
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Senior Conservator of Time-based Media
New York, New York

Deena Engel
New York University, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
Clinical Professor and Director, Program in Digital Humanities and Social Science, Department of Computer Science
New York, New York