Concepts of multiple copies, reproductions and replicas have been the subject of numerous discussions by art historians, traditionally concerned with the value of originality. Our goal in this presentation is to examine the implications for conservation when a replica becomes the art object, or when the art object is a replica. Through examples from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we will discuss the concept of replica, examine the ritual (the code of ethics and standards of practice) with which we approach these objects, and discuss the role of replicas as means of exchange, preservation, and re-creation. Philosophical writings by Benjamin, Wittgenstein, and Baudrillard will be used to focus on some theoretical concepts underlying these discussions.
19th century electrotypes serve as one example where replicas are made for dissemination, and thereby reflect a museum or collecting history that is not embodied in the original. The posthumous casts of Rodin’s bronzes, a medium for multiple copies, may be considered as replicas that profoundly influenced the preservation of Rodin’s work. The treatment of the Thinker can be seen as balancing the concept of “original” against the knowledge of “replica”. Duchamp, in the creation and authorization of replicas as art, challenges the very ideas of originality, though for the conservator issues of the “more original” still emerge as significant. Finally, Sherry Levine, in her appropriation of Brancusi’s Newborn, relies upon the conservator to actively participate in the creation of a work of art.