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The Gallery of Lost Art  is an online exhibition via the Tate Modern that explores the materiality, nature, biography and archive of missing works of art.The website explains:

Destroyed, stolen, rejected, erased, ephemeral. Some of the most significant artworks of the last 100 years have been lost, and can no longer be seen. Some artworks were thrown out by accident or lost through neglect or decay. Others were obliterated by war, acts of violence, or censorship, or were created to be temporary, lasting only a few years, months, or even minutes. Explore the records here, and discover how loss has silently shaped modern art history.

The website is divided into sections: Unrealized, Ephemeral, Rejected, Stolen, Discarded, Transient, Erased, Lost, Missing, Destroyed, Attacked. This list reads like an overview of major themes in discard studies.  The differences between lost and missing, the place of violence and attack in loss of materials, and the difference between things intended to be ephemeral and those that are erased are all instructive for studies of socio-materiality central to discard studies. Using art, and in this case, often canonical art, as the subject of a discard study is particularly interesting because of the value placed upon these cultural objects. The unstated premise of the project is that the art discussed has inherent value, but that value is contested through the techniques of loss (emphemerality, rejection, discarded, attack…).

Sometimes, the technique of loss is not necessarily known:

"Miro donated his mural to the Republic; it was accordingly split into its six component panels and packed for shipping back to the Ministry of Fine Arts in Valencia. What happened next remains unclear. It is thought possibly that the mural's poor condition--noted by Sert when it was packed-- lead the Ministry to destroy it upon its arrival in Spain. Sert himself believed that the mural most probably fell victim to an assault on the train… However, he also suggested, in a 1978 interview, that the mural might have been lost when stored int eh Spanish embassy in Paris. Whatever the case, one of Miro's most important paintings is now known through only a few black and white photographs. From "A Rival To Gurnica? Image: Joan Miro, The Reaper, 1937. Oil paint on Celotex panels.

“Miro donated his mural to the Republic; it was accordingly split into its six component panels and packed for shipping back to the Ministry of Fine Arts in Valencia. What happened next remains unclear. It is thought possibly that the mural’s poor condition–noted by Sert when it was packed– lead the Ministry to destroy it upon its arrival in Spain. Sert himself believed that the mural most probably fell victim to an assault on the train… However, he also suggested, in a 1978 interview, that the mural might have been lost when stored int eh Spanish embassy in Paris. Whatever the case, one of Miro’s most important paintings is now known through only a few black and white photographs. From “A Rival To Gurnica?
Image: Joan Miro, The Reaper, 1937. Oil paint on Celotex panels.

The Gallery of Lost Art is full of such representations, where the materiality of the artwork in question has been shifted to a photograph, an arrangement of pixels, and textual descriptions, highlighting the techniques of scavenging, preservation, and circulation for these absent objects.

Thanks to Material World Blog for the lead.

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Max Liboiron is a postdoctoral researcher with the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing and the Superstorm Research Lab.