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Preparing Indianapolis Island

Our guest blogger today is Nicole Peters, IMA Scholar Objects & Variable Art Summer Intern.

The past few weeks in the Objects & Variable Art Laboratory, I’ve been working with a lot of staff to get Andrea Zittel’s Indianapolis Island ready for its next annual summer resident, Katherine Ball.

Nicole Peters in the process of cleaning the front deck on "Indianapolis Island."

 Zittel’s Indianapolis Island is an artwork that presents many challenges and complexities that arise when conserving contemporary outdoor artworks.  For starters, the location is tricky as it is situated in the middle of the 100 Acres Lake and is only accessible via boat.  Secondly, biological effects on the island are difficult to accurately assess from the shore’s distance.  When I say “biological effects” I mean those of a Great Blue Heron taking up its own kind of residency.

Indiana Blue Heron

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the artwork requires a human to activate it by taking up an annual summer residency, which is a fundamental principle of the artwork itself.  The combination of these factors encouraged both problem solving and some creative thinking when devising a treatment plan for this interesting contemporary work.

After our initial assessment, it was obvious that a few things needed to be addressed before Katherine moved in.  The first issue being the bird guano left behind by the Great Blue Heron.  This was indeed a two person treatment which required at least one of the two people to be exceptionally tall (cue Richard, who is rather tall).

The biological effects of the Blue Heron resident on top of the island.

So, literally on the hottest morning of the summer, Richard and I rowed out to the island to scrub and wash Indianapolis Island.  We used an Orvus WA Paste-H2O solution as our cleaning agent, nitrile-dishwashing gloves, sponges, and nylon brushes for the treatment. We performed this cleaning from the island’s deck area, as well as from the rowboat.

Objects & Variable Art Conservator, Richard McCoy, utilizing his height for the cleaning process of "Indianapolis Island."

There were two fisherman on the shore who we chatted with before heading out and I believe they may having been taking bets as to when our rowboat would capsize, dumping Richard and I into the lake during the rowboat treatment.  Luckily, this did not happen and our boat remained afloat for the duration of our island visit.

Nicole Peters scrubbing the wooden door on the island with Orvus Paste and H2O solution.

There were also other island issues to be addressed prior to Katherine’s residency.  In addition to devising a general condition report and assessment for the artwork, projects included the repair and resurfacing of the island’s door, the implementation of a pest management treatment, and the general cleaning of the interior space.  Also to be considered was the conservation and storage of the material culture and island modifications left behind by 2010 summer residents, Jessica Dunn and Michael Runge, as seen in the image below.

Indianapolis Island residents Dunn and Runge’s material culture and interior modifications.

Although the physical tasks relating to the conservation of Indianapolis Island were relatively simple and manageable, the conceptual aspect for conserving this artwork was not a straightforward process.  To what degree was the IMA supposed to intervene and provide cleaning and general upkeep of the island?  Or is this work the responsibility of the new resident?

Much of Zittel’s concept for this project involves the transition of the island’s living space in accordance with the current resident’s needs and preferences. These decisions ultimately inform the representation of the artwork.  This line of thinking and questioning resulted in some interesting discussion about the conservation ethics and protocol applied to modern and contemporary artworks.

An interesting passage I came across earlier this summer in the book Modern Art: Who Cares? (p 168), refers to a decision-making model in the conservation of contemporary artworks and seems to speak to this debate:

“Does the meaning of the work change as a result of the aging, damage or decay it has sustained such that intervention must be considered?  It cannot be stated beforehand whether a certain aging or damage, indeed, constitute a problem…a scratch can reinforce the meaning of one work of art (for example a floor plate by Carl Andre) while negating it in another (a metal object by Donald Judd). Therefore, designating a potential discrepancy is not a linear process…”

The project has always been a team effort between conservators, curators, registrars, the artist, and the island resident(s).  Because we wanted to be well informed as to how the island was to appear and be presented to the new resident, we discussed the project on a phone call with Andrea.  We discussed what was to be considered “acceptable” wear-and-tear, and also what factors qualified for an intervention of the artwork.  The information obtained from this conversation will allow future caretakers to better define and document how the island is to be appropriately treated and conserved.  This project really demonstrated the importance of taking the time to consult with all involved parties about the care of the artwork.

Ultimately, I have learned this summer that the conservation of contemporary sculpture and materials is a complex, multi-faceted subject.  It requires thorough investigation of material science and a good understanding of fabrication techniques and installation processes in order to accurately preserve the artist’s original intentions, or expression.

Sailing away from "Indianapolis Island," post-treatment.

Read Nicole’s previous blog post here about her work in 100 Acres.

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Conservation

5 Responses to “Preparing Indianapolis Island”

  • avatar
    Rose Cull Says:

    Hi Nicole:
    Great post, I love the quote from Modern Art:Who Cares? Perhaps because I have worked on a floor plate by Carl Andre and sculptures by Donald Judd.
    I [] Judd.

    I think your conclusions about the conservation of contemporary sculpture is right on, it sounds like you had a great summer at the IMA.


  • avatar
    Jack Says:

    Great blog!! I really want to learn how to this!!
    Since you like art, you should check out this as well:
    Drawings Paintings Prints
    Tell me what you think? Is it worth following? Waiting for new posts at reader

  • avatar
    Katherine Langdon Says:

    Haha, Richard’s height is useful in so many ways. I predict that if cultural preservation is ever funded the way sports are, elite conservators will eventually become 7 feet tall and have very slim hands; elite field archaeologists will be built like jockeys so they can tread lightly and fit into awkward places.

    Nice post!

  • avatar
    Fan Says:

    Fascinating! The Great Blue Heron Link is not right, needs to be corrected. Cannot wait to see what the new resident will be doing. Will she let us know what it is really like to live there? Will she use a chemical toilet? or cheat and go to the Visitor Pavilion all the time like last year’s residents?

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