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Meeting Gaetano Pesce

It was 3 pm when I met Gaetano Pesce at his New York office in January, but the moon was already rising, courtesy of the Notturno a New York sofa which he designed and where he sat.

Nighttime in New York

Gaetano Pesce on the Notturno a New York sofa. Image via www.fastcompany.com

Pesce_Up1-6

This vintage promotional image of the UP chairs shows numbers 1-6 with their original packaging. Image via gaetanopesce.com

As a designer and architect, Pesce’s long career is distinguished by his creative use of modern materials to fabricate utilitarian objects that communicate socially and politically conscious messages. His most famous design is probably UP5 and UP6, a chair and ottoman combination designed in 1969 and widely known as “The Mamma” or “La Donna”.

These pieces were originally sold in flat, vacuum sealed packages. Once the package was opened, the compressed polyurethane foam expanded into a fully formed chair.  Watch it grow! But this playful design is also meant to convey a darker message about the condition of women as victims of prejudice and oppression, where the ottoman forms a prisoner’s ball and chain attached to a shape that recalls a prehistoric fertility figure.

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Filed under: Art, Conservation, Design

 

A Tale of Two Weegees

As I have written about in previous posts (here, here, here, and here), the IMA is very fortunate to have photograph conservator Paul Messier on site with us to conduct a conservation condition survey of all of our collection photographs. This initiative was made possible through a generous grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) in recognition of IMA’s significant holdings of historic and contemporary photographs. With the information gained from this survey, the IMA hopes to design a program of optimal care that will allow us to responsibly study and exhibit our photographs within the highest standard of preservation.

Paul has recently surveyed our collection of Weegee photographs, which came to the IMA in 2009. Weegee is a pseudonym for Arthur Fellig, who immigrated with his family at the age of 10 to New York from the Ukraine in 1909. He began his work in photography as a darkroom assistant for Acme Newspictures (which became United Press International Photos) before striking out on his own as a freelance photographer, concentrating on crime photography. He would often arrive at crime scenes before the first responders, which led to a joking reputation for prescience. This earned him the nickname of “ouija” (from the future-predicting board game), which was phonetically reinterpreted as “Weegee.” Weegee became well-known as a hard-boiled, scruffy, street-smart individual. He was also a natural self-promoter, who began signing his work “Weegee the Famous.” He is considered one of the first street photographers, as opposed to the traditional studio photographer who worked with staged compositions and tightly controlled content. His approach paved the way for the work of later notable photographers, such as Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. Weegee developed and printed his own photographs, and his work was published in all of the prominent New York City newspapers. He became widely known for his gritty, unvarnished views of crime, but perhaps he is best appreciated today for his capture of NYC life in high and low places—glimpses of ordinary moments frozen into significance as unselfconscious documents of time and place.

Paul called my attention to two particular photographs that struck him as singular, both of which are portraits of Weegee: one is a gelatin-silver print by photographer Larry Block and the other is a color Polaroid self-portrait by Weegee. These images, while very different from each other, are praiseworthy for their success within their respective techniques in conveying a strong sense of personality. They are also beautifully rendered, aptly utilizing the aesthetic parameters of the materials servicing these processes.

Larry Block “Portrait of Weegee,” undated. Gelatin Silver Print.Caroline Marmon Fesler Fund, Gift of the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Roger G. Wolcott Fund, Nancy Foxwell Neuberger Acquisition Endowment Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore P. Van Vorhees Art Fund, Cecil F. Head Art Fund, James V. Sweetser Fund. 2009.272.

Larry Block “Portrait of Weegee,” undated. Gelatin Silver Print.Caroline Marmon Fesler Fund, Gift of the Alliance of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Roger G. Wolcott Fund, Nancy Foxwell Neuberger Acquisition Endowment Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore P. Van Vorhees Art Fund, Cecil F. Head Art Fund, James V. Sweetser Fund. 2009.272.

The undated portrait of Weegee by Larry Block is a study of the photographer in a pensive moment, fueled by a focused intensity. He is slouched informally, yet commands great presence; the setting is casual but dramatically rendered. This is clearly an individual that deserves our attention even as he ignores the camera, seemingly alone with his thoughts and his trademark cigar. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Conservation, Photography, The Collection

 

Authentic Alternatives

Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard’s conversation pit, a square architectural recess lined with upholstered couches and throw pillows at the Miller House has been preserved, though not as the artists originally created it. The Miller family commissioned Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard to design the conversation pit in 1953 and the family enjoyed it for decades. As the Millers aged, the conversation pit became increasingly difficult for them to enjoy because the cushions were low and difficult to stand up from. In 1995, the Millers asked Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates to modify the profile of the cushions to accommodate their comfort. Today the cushions have a larger profile and are made out of a different fabric. The decision to preserve the conversation pit at this later moment is keeping with the curatorial interpretation of the home.

Joseph Irwin and Xenia Simons Miller.

Joseph Irwin and Xenia Simons Miller.

Conversation Center, 3 January 1995, FF68, Miller House and Garden Collection.

Conversation Center, 3 January 1995, FF68, Miller House and Garden Collection.

So, the original materials are no longer present in the cushions, yet the cushions are authentic — I’ll return to this riddle in a bit. In early December I had the opportunity to have a rousing debate on the topic with one of my favorite colleagues, Joelle Wickens, the result of which was captured and presented in Glasgow, Scotland.

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Filed under: Conservation, Miller House

 

Antwerp in Indy — Part One

Part one in a series of blog posts on the ongoing examination and treatment of two paintings on loan to the IMA from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

Maerten van Heemskerck, "Portrait of a Man," Oil on wood panel. Photograph taken by Aaron Steele.

Maerten van Heemskerck, “Portrait of a Man,” oil on wood panel. Photograph by Aaron Steele.

Maarten van Heemskerck’s Portrait of a Man and Gerrit Berkheyde’s View of Dam Square and the Amsterdam Town Hall have come to Indianapolis for a visit.  The IMA has the unique and wonderful opportunity to display these two paintings from the Dutch collection of Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts (KMSKA) until 2017 while the KMSKA is closed for renovation.

Gerrit Adriaensz Berkheyde, "The “Dam” in Amsterdam (Dam Square and the AmsterdamTown Hall)," oil on canvas. Photograph taken by Aaron Steele.

Gerrit Adriaensz Berkheyde, “The “Dam” in Amsterdam (Dam Square and the AmsterdamTown Hall),” oil on canvas. Photograph by Aaron Steele.

What is especially exciting about this loan is the exchange of conservation expertise for the privilege of borrowing and displaying these paintings. While at the IMA, the paintings will undergo technical examination and conservation treatment.  This includes analysis with infrared reflectography to study preparatory layers and x-radiography to further study preparatory layers and look at old damages. It’s a wonderful opportunity for IMA conservators to collaborate with international colleagues.

Both paintings are covered with layers of dirt, yellowed varnish, as well as old, discolored re-touchings and overpaint. The overall conservation process will involve carefully removing those discolored layers, applying a new and non-yellowing varnish, and carefully inpainting areas of damage to reintegrate the compositions.

Detail of the lower right corner of the Berkheyde cityscape showing darkened and discolored patches of retouching and overpaint in the foreground.  Photo by Aaron Steele.

Detail of the lower right corner of the Berkheyde cityscape showing darkened and discolored patches of retouching and overpaint in the foreground. Photo by Aaron Steele.

The conservation process will take approximately nine months for each painting. We would like to thank Nico Van Hout and Lizet Klaassen from KMSKA for their expertise and collaboration.

Filed under: Conservation

 

An Artist’s Decision to Frame

A continuation of last week’s discussion on the benefits and drawbacks of face-mounting for photography conservation. Part One can be found here.

Indianapolis artist Linda Adele Goodine is represented by two photographs in the IMA collection. The first, Helios, The Golden Boy was created in 1990 and accessioned by the IMA in 1998. It is a silver dye bleach (Cibachrome) print on resin coated paper, and it is conventionally framed behind Plexiglas glazing that is held away from the photograph with spacers. The second photograph, Bella Hawk, was created in 2005. It is described as a “Polyflex” print (a silver dye bleach process print on a resin-coated paper) and it is face-mounted to an acrylic sheet and inserted into a frame. It was brought into the collection in 2010.

 Conventionally framed silver dye bleach print “Helios, The Golden Boy”,  1990.

Conventionally framed silver dye bleach print “Helios, The Golden Boy”, 1990.

I sat down with Ms. Goodine at the IMA to discuss face-mounting and how this procedure has featured in her thinking regarding both her own photography and her work with photo majors at the Herron School of Art (Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis campus) where she is a Professor of Photography in the Fine Art program. We first spoke of the Cibachrome print, Helios – The Golden Boy, created in 1990, well before face-mounting became commonplace for art photography. She said that the Cibachrome prints of the time already possessed many of the qualities that are listed as virtues for face-mounted aesthetics   prominent among them is the glossy, saturated color that allows a heightened apprehension of three-dimensionality in the image. These characteristics perfectly suited her artistic vision at this time, and works such as Helios went on to private and institutional collections, housed in conventional frames fronted with glass or Plexiglas glazing. However, artists such as Ms. Goodine were very aware of the problems associated with framing oversized photographs in this way: the handling required to secure the photograph within the frame would impart small, dent-like creases around the perimeter, and oily fingerprints were unwittingly deposited to the detriment of the surface sheen. Once framed, the heavy photographs could yawn forward, touching the glazing in spite of the frame spacers, often encouraged by powerful static forces. Photographs larger than 30” x 40” would also naturally ripple and curl at the edges, and multiple hinges would be placed around all four edges in an imperfect attempt to keep them in plane.

 Face-mounted Chromogenic Print “Bella Hawk”, 2005.

Face-mounted Chromogenic Print “Bella Hawk”, 2005.

Bella Hawk is a work from Ms. Goodine’s 2005 Gibson Lemon Series. All of these photographs are face-mounted, and she has face-mounted three more photographic series since. When asked why, she articulated four reasons: convenience, flattening, hiding surface flaws and damage, and desired aesthetic qualities. Once face-mounted, over-sized photographs were suddenly very easy to handle, and the ruinous creases and fingerprints were no longer a danger. The artwork was rendered unequivocally flat  permanently. Small scratches or cracks in the surface of the photograph were rendered invisible by the filling-in power of the adhesive. And in the case of Bella Hawk, Ms. Goodine was working with the face-mounted quality of imparting a certain luxuriance to the photographic surface; she said it “accentuated the light in the image, and gave an enhanced glow” that suited her subject matter.

Ms. Goodine is now moving away from large scale photography, and with this decision she expects to abandon face-mounting, as well. She believes that it is not really necessary to protect smaller photographs with adhesive-adhered glazing, as handling and caring for them is exponentially easier than with the larger works. She feels that the artist’s choice of photographic papers and printing processes can provide a wide variety of image aesthetics that can be utilized in the service of artistic vision; she personally prefers the image rendering characteristics of the Polyflex paper that she likens visually to the older Cibachrome (then Ilfochrome) papers. She also said that face-mounting is not a practical choice for her students at this stage of their artistic careers because of the expense involved, so the subject is not discussed at length in her classroom. But Ms. Goodine would like to strongly caution anyone interested in face-mounting their work to be knowledgeable about the components of the face-mounting package and insist on using the highest grades of plastic sheeting and rigid back supports available. As it is a permanent mounting system, long term stability is a paramount concern, and artists should continually investigate the products that can ultimately preserve – or possibly destroy – their legacy.

Filed under: Conservation, Local

 

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