Purposeful Impermanence: Biodegradable Art and Its Challenge to Conservation

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993 [at the Hirshhorn Museum at Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1999]. Chocolate and soap; 24 x 16 x 13 inches (60.96 x 40.64 x 33.02 cm). Image courtesy Luhring Augustine.

*by Caroline Barnett

Dieter Roth, P.O.TH.A.A.VFB (Portrait of the artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [birdseed bust], 1968. Multiple of chocolate and birdseed; 8 1/4 x 5 1/2 x 4 3/4 inches (21 x 14 x 12 cm). Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.

Dieter Roth, P.O.TH.A.A.VFB (Portrait of the artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [birdseed bust], 1968. Multiple of chocolate and birdseed; 8 1/4 x 5 1/2 x 4 3/4 inches (21 x 14 x 12 cm). Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art.

Modern artists turned to unconventional materials throughout the twentieth-century as a way to signal their departure from traditional artmaking. But the shift should also be read as an active and purposeful engagement with the associations specific to artists’ chosen media. In the case of foodstuffs, ephemerality comprises just one facet of its meaning. Food’s capacity for social and art historical connotations should not be overlooked. This paper investigates the use of food in the practices of artists Dieter Roth and Janine Antoni. The conception, creation, and afterlife of their works will be key in properly interpreting the intended and actual meanings of their material.

A focused comparison of two self-portraits by Roth and Antoni, P.O.TH.A.A.VFB (Portrait of the artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [Birdseed Bust]) (1968) and Lick and Lather (1993), captures the constellation of challenges food-based art poses to the conservator. As Gwynne Ryan, the sculpture conservator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, has said, an art object in this unconventional vein “develops a life of its own”; examining statements by the artist is therefore not only helpful, but also often imperative to defining their work.[1]

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993. Chocolate and soap; 24 x 16 x 13 inches (60.96 x 40.64 x 33.02 cm). Image courtesy Luhring Augustine.

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993. Chocolate and soap; 24 x 16 x 13 inches (60.96 x 40.64 x 33.02 cm). Image courtesy Luhring Augustine.

Art compromised by inherent vice is invested with change at its core, and the typical system of values —such as those set out by Alois Riegl in 1903—is undermined.[2] Historical, age, art, and even commemorative value form an intricate web of competing aspects of the artwork that directly affect conservation considerations.[3] Should the conceptual thrust of the piece be privileged above its material appearance? If so, how does replication alter the discussion? Perhaps the solution is, as Ryan suggests, to treat the ephemeral art object as autonomous. From this vantage, the conservator is responsible first and foremost to the object and only secondarily to the artist.

Just over eight inches high, five inches wide, and four inches deep, Roth’s P.O.TH.A.A.VFB (Portrait of the Artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [Birdseed Bust] packs a substantial statement into a small package. The work, a portrait bust of the artist, is made entirely of chocolate and birdseed. It is both an example of and a critique on the long tradition of self-portraiture in art: steeped in conventions and associations, the portrait bust immediately connotes prestige, immortality, and, typically, white male dominance. Roth’s criticism arises directly from his chosen medium: not only is the chocolate dark brown—nearly a polar opposite to the purity of oft-revered Carrara marble, and a sly visual reference to excrement—but it is also diminutive and, more importantly, intrinsically unstable.[4]

Conceived for outdoor display, much of the original surface of the sculpture has been eaten away by birds and insects, Roth’s “collaborators.” The term implies an equitable, or at least dialogic, relationship, and is borrowed from ARTnews editor Robin Cembalest. In reference to Roth’s Basel on the Rhine from 1969, Cembalest wrote that the piece “is in constant flux: the metal is corroding, fat “blooms” on the surface, and small holes all over it mark the trails of Roth’s tiny collaborators, bugs.” Once-smooth contours disappear beneath a blanket of pockmarks. P.O.TH.A.A.VFB defies Riegl’s concept of deliberate commemorative value (implied by the portrait bust), which mandates that the monument remain legible.[6] Two issues for the conservator immediately arise: in the absence of the original surface, where does the authenticity of the piece reside?[7] And how does the birds’ and insects’ chiseling of the sculpture complicate Roth’s position as the artist?

Dieter Roth, P.O.TH.A.A.VFB (Portrait of the artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [birdseed bust], 1970. Multiple of chocolate and birdseed; ca. 9 x 6 x 4 inches (22.9 x 15.2 x 10.2 cm). Image courtesy artnet.

Dieter Roth, P.O.TH.A.A.VFB (Portrait of the artist as a Vogelfutterbüste [birdseed bust], 1970. Multiple of chocolate and birdseed; ca. 9 x 6 x 4 inches (22.9 x 15.2 x 10.2 cm). Image courtesy artnet.

To begin answering these questions, it is first necessary to look to the context from which the works emerged. In 1968, at the end of a decade notorious for rejecting convention, Roth began utilizing chocolate as an artistic medium.[8] He intentionally opted for “good” store-bought chocolate (milk, dark, and white); he enjoyed its ordinariness, its place in everyday life, as well as its susceptibility to change over time.[9] Sarah Suzuki, a curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at The Museum of Modern Art, explains, “food products enabled [Roth] to incorporate into his art two of the basic elements of nature: time and biodeterioration.”[10]

Chocolate’s volatility stems from its fat—typically cocoa butter—and sugar content: both are prone to an effect called “blooming,” which manifests on the surface in an opaque, whitish film.[11] Precipitated by fluctuations in humidity or temperature, the bloom can significantly alter the look of an object, as is the case of Roth’s birdseed bust. Given the artist’s original intention, this effect seems fitting, even desirable: it combats the preconceived notion that portraits immortalize their patrons at a frozen moment in time. Roth’s chocolate is less about its social or cultural implications than its material qualities. Michel Delville read another chocolate piece by Roth, the Chocolate Lion (1971), as an “example of an art that allows the materiality of the work itself to describe the process of decay of edible matter.”[12] In a gesture of defiance, Roth chose a medium that was both untraditional and prone to degeneration, thereby rejecting the tropes of conventionality and timelessness engrained in art history.

Roth commented on conservation during his lifetime, expressing a preference for preservation through photography (in Roth’s words: “Photography can take the place of restoration as historical record.”). His interest in decay for decay’s sake bucks museum ideology. An art critic recounted his experience at an exhibition: “it’s hard not to smile…at the irony of museum-resistant art that celebrates the momentary being protected by DO NOT TOUCH signs.”[14] Indeed, Roth disdained museums, once likening them to funeral parlors.[15] The irony is thick, as Roth’s food-based works are destined to die if left untreated. Heide Skowranek elucidates: “It is less the result and more the continuing genesis of the work—its change and deformation through to decay—that is of importance.”[16] And, as conservator Elyse Klein insists, “Whatever the artist’s reason for willing his or her work to deteriorate, decomposition must be recognized and respected as the artist’s intent.”[17] But when deterioration is equivalent with the meaning of an object, what role does the conservator play?

For Suzuki, it means taking a passive approach: “[R]ather than letting nature take its course through decay or insect infestation—or, conversely, trying to restore the works to their original condition—the staff uses gentle tactics to maintain them in their current form.”[18] When a piece is infiltrated by insects, conservators will “set pheromone traps coupled with sticky platforms to ensure that no bugs live in the piece right now. They monitor the work often to make sure insects don’t return.”[19] Conservation through maintenance (or arresting the effects of decay at a particular moment before total disintegration) fits with what Theodora Vischer, a curator who was close to Roth, wrote about the artist’s desire to “record not an exclusive moment but a moment that endures…[and] that remains embedded and suspended in time.”[20] However, in this preventative method, the conservator projects historical value onto the object, and the decision of when to intervene in the decay process is both arbitrary and bound up in the conservator’s own preferences.[21]

An artwork can be “suspended in time” in two ways – through preservation or replication; Roth’s practice supports the latter. He explored the idea of replication in many of his works by producing them in series or multiple editions, diminishing the uniqueness of the art object.[22] He also collaborated with other artists regularly, thereby instigating the “dilution of his own authorship.”[23] For Roth, concept superseded content, as evidenced by his desire for the bust to be placed outside. The meaning of P.O.TH.A.A.VFB is tied to its decay, and its primary value, according to the artist, is age value.

The artist’s enjoyment of the serial object and his disregard for his own superiority as the sole author of his work understandably leads the conservator to the replica. When the work is in a public collection whose mission is to preserve and present the objects it houses, the work, particularly as a portrait bust, acquires a layer of commemorative value.[24] Replication provides a reasonable and fitting outcome as a supplemental, educational, and transparent option—the original would remain in the collection and, if possible, on view, while the reconstruction would be clearly labeled as such.[25] The replica “would repeat the process of decay for eternity,” doing justice to Roth’s concept while still making it available to later generations who can gain from experiencing it in a readable state.[26] Skowranek said it plainly: “If…we want to prevent the decomposition of works, we must first ignore Dieter Roth’s questioning of the eternal nature of art and either use the methods of conservation to fix an object in a particular state or create replicas of works with a short lifespan.”[27] The conceptual thrust, and its pertinence to artists operating in its wake, supports Skowranek’s claim.

Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather (1993) comprises fourteen portrait busts and, like Roth’s sculpture, takes self-portraiture for its central motif.[28] The busts are larger than Roth’s and stand at approximately twenty-four inches high, sixteen inches wide, and thirteen inches deep, establishing a near-equal dialogue between artist, artwork, and viewer.[29] Completed in two parts, Lick and Lather contains seven busts in chocolate and seven in soap; only Lick will receive attention here.[30] To make the busts, Antoni created a mold from alginate and later licked the resulting chocolate forms to reshape them. Each is unique; the facial features range from detailed articulation to blankness. The impermanence of Antoni’s medium subverts traditional expectations of the portrait bust, while the intimate nature of her technique endows the busts with a by the sensuous connotations of chocolate.

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993 [at the Hirshhorn Museum at Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1999]. Chocolate and soap; 24 x 16 x 13 inches (60.96 x 40.64 x 33.02 cm). Image courtesy Luhring Augustine.

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993 [at the Hirshhorn Museum at Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1999]. Chocolate and soap; 24 x 16 x 13 inches (60.96 x 40.64 x 33.02 cm). Image courtesy Luhring Augustine.

Repetition of the busts in the museum gallery, elevated on identical plinths and arranged in a continuous line, subordinates the artist’s playful humor to the work’s austerity (Figure 5). Speaking about another piece executed in chocolate, Gnaw from 1992, Antoni described her practice as a whole: “I was interested in the bite because it’s both intimate and destructive; it sort of sums up my relationship to art history. I feel attached to my artistic heritage and I want to destroy it.”[31] Should ‘lick’ be substituted for ‘bite’, the overriding message in Lick and Lather becomes one riddled with tension, vacillating between homage and rejection. The structural precariousness of the medium reflects the same tension.

Antoni is indebted to Roth’s pioneering efforts using chocolate in art.[32] Unlike Roth, however, Antoni capitalizes on the host of associations that chocolate carries: indulgence, sensuality, nourishment, sweetness, pleasure, desire, appetite, obesity, and malleability. She appreciates its multisensory presence, banning vitrines so that viewers can smell and sometimes taste it.[33] As Antoni elucidates, “the thing about chocolate is that it has the product phenylamine in it. That product is the chemical that’s produced in our body when we’re in love. So, I think that’s why chocolate is so addictive.”[34] Addiction conjures its own set of social and political issues, but in the case of Lick and Lather, the overarching goal seems to be to evoke the idea of love, particularly self-love. The busts encapsulate a poignant push-pull between nourishment and deprivation, acceptance of one’s body and the endless desire to edit one’s appearance. These ideas are embedded in the chocolate, affirming that the physicality of Lick is exceedingly important.

Antoni’s statement about the chemical composition of chocolate demonstrates her familiarity with the material.[35] In an interview, Antoni conceded that she had researched “archivally safer” chocolate, but explained: “I feel it’s not chocolate without fat. By the time you take out the fat and the sugar, you might as well make it a bronze.”[36] Ultimately choosing a grade that will last 100 years, Antoni offered a hint as to what role decay plays in Lick: the aging of the chocolate, while pertinent to the subversion of portraiture-as-everlasting, is not the crux of the piece. Knowing the characteristics of chocolate and its vulnerability to heat and humidity, the artist’s method likely exacerbates the decay of her busts, but the technique is too important to sacrifice. The performance of bringing the busts into creation transcends all other components of the work, indicated by its memorialization in her titles. Indeed, Antoni has said, “How I made it is everything to me.”[37]

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993 [at The New Museum, 2013]. Soap; 24 x 16 x 13 inches (60.96 x 40.64 x 33.02 cm). Image courtesy Jacinda Russell Art.

Janine Antoni, Lick and Lather, 1993 [at The New Museum, 2013]. Soap; 24 x 16 x 13 inches (60.96 x 40.64 x 33.02 cm). Image courtesy Jacinda Russell Art.

Antoni’s choice of a more stable chocolate and her statements on the connotative power of that material prove that decay is not the crux of Lick, but more an addendum. The layers of significance in Lick have more to do with their material appearance than their conceptual underpinnings.[38] While, like Roth, Antoni embraced serial possibilities in her art, she also privileged her authorship above the intervention of others, which is apparent in her willingness to remake her pieces if they become damaged.[39] Antoni’s technique for Lick and Lather indicates that the busts should be treated as wholly unique objects – the lick marks are specific to her and, importantly, imbued with the gravity of self-portraiture. Replication by anyone other than the artist should be avoided. For Antoni, aesthetic and authorial value reign supreme.[40]

As Joanna Phillips, a conservator at the Guggenheim, has said of time-based media art objects, “The artist’s voice is especially important when the artwork is still in a stage of ‘infancy,’ and thus still developing.”[41] This notion of artworks as mortal, prone to disease, aging, and obsolescence as much as human beings, translates directly to food-based pieces. Adopting this view affords conservators and artists the flexibility necessary to fully understand a piece as it evolves, making room for editing as well as replication.[42]

When an artwork is acquired by a public collection, the piece assumes new obligations and new layers of meaning.[43] Institutions are beholden to the general public, artists, and art historians alike, preserving its objects as sources of inspiration and resources for knowledge. These organizations have private responsibilities as well, namely to the professionals who staff them, such as the conservator, whose job demands an active role (however “passive”) in the preservation of the objects they collect and display. The private collector is a separate matter, as his or her focus, unfettered by the wants and needs of society, is trained primarily on his or her enjoyment of the piece. Contemporary artists must accept that the artwork she or he makes enters into the art historical record, and that its contribution begs to be preserved accordingly.

The beauty of unconventional art materials lies in how they make available a number of implications and associations that traditional media never could. To claim that this essay has touched on all the implications of Roth’s P.O.TH.A.A.VFB and Antoni’s Lick and Lather would be to do them an injustice. Indeed, their many layers of meaning are as prone to change as their materials. To this point, there is a significant difference between one artist’s experiment with an unfamiliar medium and the fully researched exploration of uncharted territory by another. For Roth, delving into the realm of foodstuffs meant a series of largely unplanned discoveries of what nature could do. Antoni approaches the unfamiliar after much thoughtful planning and consideration. This distinction is essential in interpreting the meaning of decay in their work.

To echo Gwynne Ryan, food-based objects are autonomous actors in the scope of art history. Christian Scheidemann, a private conservator of contemporary art, corroborates this perspective, saying that conservators “are responsible to the art work, not to the artist or to the collector.”[44] But Albert Albano, Executive Director of the ICA, a non-profit art conservation center, has warned of “the odd result” that can occur when a conservator places her own ideals before the artist’s.[45] Therefore, it is crucial that in serving the object, the conservator takes into consideration the intended and realized meaning of the work—along with its environmental “collaborators.” And in terms of twentieth- and twenty-first-century portraiture, perhaps a new definition of the genre is in order.


*Caroline Barnett is a second-year M.A. student at the Institute of Fine Arts, studying modern and contemporary art. Focusing on the 1950s-1970s, she is interested in material art history and minimal, conceptual, and performance art.


[1] Gwynne Ryan, “Variable Materials, Variable Roles: The shifting skills required in contemporary art conservation,” Objects Specialty Group Postprints, Vol. 18 (2011): 105.

[2] Elyse Klein, “Food for Thought: the Use of Food in Contemporary Art and Problems Related to its Conservation,” unpublished manuscript, n.d., Art Conservation Program, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 8.

[3] Indeed, Sebastiano Barassi cautioned against overestimating intentional commemorative value in contemporary art in his article, “The Modern Cult of Replicas: A Rieglian Analysis of Values in Replication,” Tate Papers, Issue 8 (October 2007), accessed April 30, 2014, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/modern-cult-replicas-rieglian-analysis-values-replication.

[4] In an online article, Sarah Suzuki expanded on the visual slippage between chocolate and excrement, writing of Roth’s Bunny-dropping-bunny from 1968: “What at first looks to be a chocolate Easter bunny is, in fact, made out of rabbit food (straw) and rabbit droppings. With this revelation, the initial appeal of the chocolate bunny is upended, becoming disgust at the thought of this excrement pile, and prompting a consideration of the cycles of consumption and excretion, birth and death, creation and decay, in art and in life.” Sarah Suzuki, “Dieter Roth’s Bunny Leaves More Than Just Chocolate and Jelly Beans,” The Museum of Modern Art, March 29, 2013, accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2013/03/29/dieter-roths-bunny-leaves-more-than-just-chocolate-and-jelly-beans.

[5] Robin Cembalest, “Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Self-Destructing Chocolate Head,” ARTnews, February 21, 2013, accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.artnews.com/2013/02/21/chocolate-self-portraits-by-janine-antoni-and-dieter-rot/.

[6] This idea is recapitulated and challenged by Michael von der Goltz in his essay, “Alois Riegl’s Denkmalswerte: A decision chart model for modern and contemporary art conservation?” on pages 51 and 53. Von der Goltz reminds the reader that Riegl’s understanding calls for conservation and even restoration (reconstruction) of the object, but he questions the relevance of Riegl’s approach to more recent commemorative works. Michael von der Goltz, “Alois Riegl’s Denkmalswerte: a decision chart model for modern and contemporary art conservation?” in Theory and Practice in the Conservation of Modern and Contemporary Art (London: Archetype Publications, 2010), 50-61.

[7] As outlined in the “Nara Document on Authenticity” of 1994, “Authenticity…appears as the essential qualifying factor concerning values. The understanding of authenticity plays a fundamental role in all scientific studies of the cultural heritage, in conservation and restoration planning, as well as within the inscription procedures used for the World Heritage Convention and other cultural heritage inventories.” The conference surrounding this document centered its discussion on the slippery quality of the term, “authenticity,” acknowledging its manifold meanings in different cultural contexts. To do justice to this loaded term would require a longer paper; for the purpose of this essay, the exact definition and location of “authenticity” in Roth’s oeuvre is understood to remain up for debate. Raymond Lemaire and Herb Stovel, “Nara Document on Authenticity,” Nara Conference on Authenticity (1994).

[8] The Museum of Modern Art, “Selected Works – Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing, Editions by Dieter Roth,” The Museum of Modern Art, 2013, accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2013/dieter_roth/works/small-garden-gnome-as-squirrel-food-sculpture-kleiner-gartenzwerg-als-eichhornchenfutterplastik/.

[9] According to the Dieter Roth Foundation, Roth “used three classic flavours: milk chocolate, dark and white chocolate…delivered in blocks of 2,5 kg.” Dieter Roth Foundation, n.d., accessed May 3, 2014, http://www.dieter-roth-foundation.com/en.

[10] Sarah Suzuki, Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2013), 87.

[11] As Glenn Wharton explained, “Bloom signifies dire consequences within the chocolate. In addition to the unattractive appearance created by the bloom, the structure of the chocolate itself has been weakened. In the most advanced cases, the fatty binder that once held the solid particles together has been lost, the plasticizer that gave the chocolate its flexibility and resilience is no longer in place. The resulting material is a powdery, crumbling mass. Milk chocolate is not as susceptible to bloom.” Glenn Wharton, “Sweetness and Blight: Conservation of Chocolate Works of Art,” in From Marble to Chocolate, ed. Jackie Heuman. (London: Archetype Publications, 1995), 164.

[12] Michel Delville, Food, Poetry, and the Aesthetics of Consumption: Eating the Avant-Garde (New York: Routledge, 2012), 139.

[13] Heide Skowranek, “Should We Reproduce the Beauty of Decay? A Museumsleben in the work of Dieter Roth,” Tate Papers, Issue 8 (October 2007), accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/should-we-reproduce-beauty-decay-museumsleben-work-dieter-roth.

[14] Peter Rainer, “Things Fall Apart,” New York Magazine, April 12, 2004, accessed May 4, 2014, http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/art/reviews/n_10131/#.

[15] Dieter Roth: Bilder, Zeichnungen, Objekte, discussion with Hans-Joachim Müller (Basel: Galerie Littmann, 1989), n.p., in Skowranek, 2007.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Elyse Klein, “Food for Thought: the Use of Food in Contemporary Art and Problems Related to its Conservation,” unpublished manuscript, n.d. (Art Conservation Program, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada), 8.

[18] Robin Cembalest, “Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Self-Destructing Chocolate Head,” ARTnews, February 21, 2013, accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.artnews.com/2013/02/21/chocolate-self-portraits-by-janine-antoni-and-dieter-rot/.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Theodora Vischer, in Randy Kennedy, “Time and Other Collaborators,” The New York Times, January 17, 2013, accessed May 5, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/arts/design/dieter-roths-works-live-on-as-a-family-business.html?_r=0.

[21] The way Barassi summarizes historical value and the conservation treatments it typically incurs led me to this conclusion. Barassi, 2007.

[22] The Museum of Modern Art, “Introduction – Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing, Editions by Dieter Roth,” The Museum of Modern Art, 2013, accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2013/dieter_roth/.

[23] Roth also recruited his son, Björn, to help in various projects over the course of his career, and Björn continues to execute his father’s artwork with the help of his own sons. “Dieter Roth. Björn Roth,” Hauser & Wirth, 2013, accessed May 1, 2014, http://www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/1649/dieter-roth-bjorn-roth/view/.

[24] The qualifying mission of the institution is key. Roth’s Schimmelmuseum in Hamburg, for example, is a conceptual installation geared towards dismantling the socio-cultural conventions of art (Figure 6).

[25] As von der Goltz underscored in his chapter, where age value is difficult to capture tangibly in the art object, “documentation is what lasts and should be treated as an intentional commemorative monument.” Von der Goltz, 55.

[26] Skowranek, 2007.

[27] The ethical questions surrounding replication are complex and nuanced, and while relevant, would require a much longer analysis not afforded by a paper of this length. That said, it should be understood that a replica would be acknowledged as a product of the cultural moment in which it is made, independent of the original artwork.

[28] According to the artist, seven other busts exist independently of the installation discussed here. This paper focuses only on the Lick portion of the fourteen-bust work. Janine Antoni, (presentation, Technical Art History Workshop, Institute of Fine Arts, New York, June 27, 2012).

[29] Roughly a third of each bust is allocated to an elongated conical base; the anatomical bust, therefore, is likely about twelve inches high.

[30] It is worth mentioning that Antoni liked the soap for its overt link to the aesthetics of classical sculpture, and was part of her intent when conceiving the piece for its debut in Venice, Italy for the Biennale. Worth noting, too, is that soap has a fat content, which not only correlates it with chocolate, but renders Lather susceptible to bloom (and other effects of decay) as well. For further reading, a student at the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation addressed this issue in an article, “The Art of Soapmaking,” on the Museum blog. Clara Curran, “The Art of Soapmaking,” Winterthur Museum and Library Blog, July 10, 2012, accessed May 9, 2014, http://museumblog.winterthur.org/2012/07/10/the-art-of-soapmaking/.

[31] Laura Cottingham, “Janine Antoni: Biting Sums Up My Relationship to Art History,” FlashArt (Summer 1993): 104.

[32] Robin Cembalest, “Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Self-Destructing Chocolate Head,” ARTnews, February 21, 2013, accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.artnews.com/2013/02/21/chocolate-self-portraits-by-janine-antoni-and-dieter-rot/.

[33] When the work was first shown, a girl visiting the Venice Biennale bit the nose off of three of Antoni’s busts. In her response, the artist has said: “There’s not a lot of time between smelling and biting. It’s a funny thing when you make pieces about desire and people succumb to their desire.” Robin Cembalest, “Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Self-Destructing Chocolate Head,” ARTnews, February 21, 2013, Accessed April 14, 2014. http://www.artnews.com/2013/02/21/chocolate-self-portraits-by-janine-antoni-and-dieter-rot/

[34] Janine Antoni in Art21, “Lick and Lather,” Art21, n.d., accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.art21.org/texts/janine-antoni/interview-janine-antoni-lick-and-lather.

[35] In her interview with Art21, Antoni described her process for Lick and Lather in detail: “I took a mold directly from my body. I used a product called alginate, which is the kind of material that you might be familiar with when you go to the dentist, that sort of minty tasting stuff. It’s an incredible product because it gets every detail, every little pore. I even cast my hair. So, I started with an exact replica and then I carved the classical stand. I made a mold, melted down thirty-five pounds of chocolate, poured it into the mold. And when I took it out of the mold, I re-sculpted my image by licking the chocolate.” Her knowledge of the products is obvious, not only because she can easily name them, but because she is so fluent in speaking about their characteristics and behaviors. Ibid.

[36] Robin Cembalest, “Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Self-Destructing Chocolate Head,” ARTnews, February 21, 2013, accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.artnews.com/2013/02/21/chocolate-self-portraits-by-janine-antoni-and-dieter-rot/.

[37] Antoni presentation, 2012.

[38] It should be said that Antoni has defined herself as a conceptual artist. That said, she has also admitted to how often she changes her mind about her work and her practice, and it seems reasonable to assume that she would accept the claim that the tangibility of Lick and Lather is crucial to its meaning.

[39] It is known that Antoni has willingly replicated and restored her work, namely Gnaw and Lather, usually in the face of extreme, unpredicted and unwanted effects of aging. The artist’s eagerness to rectify excessive decay illustrates not only her perspective that she, the artist, is integral to the work, but also her utter investment in the tangibility of the object. Susan Emerling elaborates: “To stay connected to certain pieces, Antoni continues working on them long after they have been placed in collections. The performance and installation piece Slumber, begun in 1994, involves Antoni recording her rapid eye movements on a polysomnograph…Slumber now belongs to the Greek collector Dakis Joannou, but each time it is exhibited, Antoni travels to where the work is, records new dreams, and picks up weaving where she left off.” Susan Emerling, “Looking After Their Own,” ARTnews, May 1, 2005, Accessed April 17, 2014 http://www.artnews.com/2005/05/01/looking-after-their-own/

[40] Antoni’s comments about the future of her artworks are interesting, as it is clear that she, too, struggles with their fate. In a talk in 2012, she discussed the possibility of producing more casts of Lick and Lather, so that when sold, the piece would come equipped with molds of the licked and lathered busts. But the absence of her physical body clearly presents a problem to the ultimate meaning of the work: would a bust made from a cast and executed by a complete stranger really hold the same significance as Antoni’s originals? Antoni presentation, 2012.

[41] Joanna Phillips in Caitlin Dover, “Analog to Digital: A Q&A with Guggenheim Conservator Joanna Phillips, Part Two,” Guggenheim Museum, March 5, 2014, accessed May 5, 2014 http://blogs.guggenheim.org/checklist/analog-to-digital-a-q-and-a-with-guggenheim-conservator-joanna-phillips-part-two/. To substantiate the connection, Ryan readily acknowledged in her 2011 essay that “time-based media conservation often pav[es] the way to solutions that become viable for the broader category of contemporary art.” Ryan, “Variable Materials, Variable Roles,” 106.

[42] In Securing the Past: Conservation in Art, Architecture and Literature, Paul Eggert cited Walter Benjamin’s concept of mechanical reproducibility, holding that the art replica is not unlike the revised edition of a book and going so far as to say, “If artists are still alive when their work deteriorates then they may act as their own conservators.” Paul Eggert, Securing the Past: Conservation in Art, Architecture and Literature, (Cambridge University Press, 2009): 103. Additionally, Carol Mancusi-Ungaro’s thought-provoking essay, “Authority and Ethics,” touches on the many categories of replicas and an artwork’s aura, asking how it might migrate to duplications and what might happen if it should “make its way to the marketplace.” Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, “Authority and Ethics,” Tate Papers, Issue 8 (October 2007), Accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/authority-and-ethics.

[43] In telling the story of MoMA’s acquisition of Gnaw, Antoni said that immediately, onlookers began to interpret the work as “about an ephemeral work being in a museum” – a meaning she had never been interested in nor intended. But to her, the issue is tied up in our human fear of death; in this, she acknowledges the museum’s vested interest in preserving its collection. Antoni presentation, 2012.

[44] Christian Scheidemann, “The Art Doctor,” The New Yorker, May 11, 2009, n.p.

[45] Albert Albano, “Art in Transition,” AIC Preprints – 16th Annual Meeting (New Orleans, Louisiana, 1988), reprinted in Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, ed. Nicholas Stanley Price, Mansfield Kirby Talley, Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro (Getty Publications, 1996), 183.