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A Solution to Fill the Voids

Today's guest blogger is Sarah Gowen, the Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Paintings Conservation.

As many of the previous conservation blog postings have illustrated, conservators are often faced with challenges in the analysis and treatment of artworks; however, sometimes the examination of a work can be in itself a challenge.  When a work enters the IMA conservation studio, it is carefully examined and documented.  Documentation includes reporting observations about the object’s condition and detailed photography of all surfaces.  During this process, x-ray images may be taken.  X-radiographs can augment the conservator’s understanding of the object’s condition, reveal the artist’s technique, and expose artist changes.

Unfortunately, sometimes the process is not as easy as taking a quick x-ray image of a work.  What happens when the image in question is obscured by another element of the work itself?  Take for example cradled panel paintings.  In the past, treatment of wooden panel paintings often included adhering a criss-crossed network of wooden beams to the reverse to support the panel.  Conservators now know that restraining wood in such a way can cause additional damage, but the process of removing a cradle can be invasive and is often not necessary if the painting is kept in a stable environment.  The network of beams, however, complicates x-radiography.

A case in point is this small (11 1/4 in. x 8 5/8 in.) Dutch portrait by Ferdinand Bol from 1659.  A cradle has been adhered to the reverse, likely to support two horizontal damages (one towards the top through the sitter’s hat and one at the bottom below the sitter’s hand).

Comparison

Front and back of Portrait of a Man by Ferdinand Bol

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Filed under: Art, Conservation, Guest Bloggers

 

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

 

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