The Art of Copying: Five strategies for Transforming Originals in the Art Museum




Art museum, Artworks, Original, Copy, Derrida


This article discusses copies within the field of art museums by way of mapping strategies for copy practices. This mapping leans heavily towards parts of the wri-tings of Jacques Derrida (1930–2004). Against the backdrop of this theoretical premise, the article distinguishes five main strategies. Firstly, the copies which of-ten are considered to be typical museum copies, characterize the strategy for the disseminating relation between original and copy, that is, reproductions, magnets, etc. This strategy implies how copy practices are closely integrated into museum practices in general. Secondly, the supplementing relation between original and copy will be introduced. This strategy frames, for example, artists’ citations of other works and forgeries. Both show that copy practices often lead to new originals, in principle, ad infinitum. Thirdly, this leads to the strategy for the displacing relation between original and copy which encompasses, for example, artistic reworkings of other artists’ originals and conservatorial restorations. This approach partly ex-cludes the copy and partly displaces the original, while still, unavoidably, referring to the latter. In general, this strategy signifies the latent instability of the origi-nal. Fourthly, the strategy for the informational relation between original and copy will be discussed as it has a vital function in terms of talking about museum originals and copies. This is the strategy which grants the original artifacts their status as museum objects. An informational copy is just as unique as an original object of art, and at the same time, it defines the original and is itself defined by this opposition. Lastly, the strategy for the imagined relation between original and copy follows. This strategy is dependent upon several of the previous approaches, and, in addition, handles signs that exist without explicit originals, as the strategy covers copies referring to originals which have disappeared, been destroyed, not seen yet, etc.; that is, this strategy produces images of originals not least by way of the disseminating relation between original and copy from the first strategy.


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How to Cite

Christensen, H. D. (2017) “The Art of Copying: Five strategies for Transforming Originals in the Art Museum”, Culture Unbound, 9(1), pp. 85–107. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.179185.



Theorizing Copies