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Living Matter: The Preservation of Biological Materials in Contemporary Art, An International Conference Held in Mexico City, June 3–5, 2019

Edited by Rachel Rivenc and Kendra Roth

This innovative volume is the first to address the conservation of contemporary art incorporating biological materials such as plants, foods, bodily fluids, or genetically engineered organisms. 
Eggshells, flowers, onion peels, sponge cake, dried bread, breast milk, bacteria, living organisms—these are just a few of the biological materials that contemporary artists are using to make art. But how can works made from such perishable ingredients be preserved? And what logistical, ethical, and conceptual dilemmas might be posed by doing so?
Because they are prone to rapid decay, even complete disappearance, biological materials used in art pose a range of unique conservation challenges. This groundbreaking book probes the issues associated with displaying, collecting, and preserving these unique works of art. The twenty-four papers from the conference present a range of case studies, prominently featuring artists’ perspectives, as well as conceptual discussions, thereby affording a comprehensive and richly detailed overview of current thinking and practices on this topic. Living Matter is the first publication to explore broadly the role of biological materials in the creative process and present a variety of possible approaches to their preservation.  
Reflecting Getty's commitment to open content, Living Matter: The Preservation of Biological Materials in Contemporary Art is available online at and may be downloaded free of charge in multiple formats. For readers who wish to have a bound reference copy, this paperback edition has been made available for sale.

Rachel Rivenc is head of conservation and preservation at the Getty Research Institute. Kendra Roth is the conservator responsible for sculpture and decorative arts in the department of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“The world of conservation is finally considering the vitality of artworks that can act as quasi agents of their own. The proceedings of this important symposium on the conservation of biological materials in art illuminates, through a wide range of case studies, how traditional approaches both to art and to conservation fail to adequately address the new materiality of post-anthropocentrism.”
—Marina Pugliese, Professor, Art History and Visual Culture Department, California College of the Arts (CCA)

260 pages
8 1/2 x 11 inches
236 color and 6 b/w illustrations
3 tables
ISBN 978-1-60606-687-4

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Conservation Institute
Series: Symposium Proceedings