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Subject: Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys

From: George Brock-Nannestad <pattac>
Date: Friday, October 8, 2004
Maren Romen <maren [at] romen__de> writes

>I am a painting conservator working in the middlewest of Germany. At
>the moment I am working as a freelancer for the museum "Kurhaus" in
>Kleve, the birthplace of Beuys. I need some information about the
>material behaviour concerning a multiple called
>"Phosphor-Kreuzschlitten" made by Joseph Beuys 1972, (45 x 45 x 0.6
>The object is composed of a thin phosphorus layer between two
>transparent PVC-layers (each 3mm thickness).
>When the loan arrived into the museum (climate controlled) it was
>installed in upright position in it's exposition box. After a short
>time it began to drip. We can see a kind of sweating out small
>droplets at the surface of the PVC-layers, gathering at the bottom
>of the exposition box.
>During the former hanging by the private owner the object didn't
>behave like that before, but it was fixed directly above a heating.
>Did the climate fluctuation from a "warm and comfortable home place"
>into a controlled museum environment caused the damage?

This honest posting is a sad example of the plight of museums when
faced with works of art in unstable materials. The choice of
materials is the responsibility of the artist. However, if buyers
discover that artists are really creating ephemeral works, they are
not likely to want to pay as much as they sometimes do. If the
artist had intended the work to disintegrate gradually from ca. 30
years of existence, then the situation is normal, and no action
(except to collect the drippings) is needed.

If the work of art is considered as a repository of information (an
object, in which the utility is to present itself visually), then it
is not performing this task very well when it is disintegrating, and
documentation might be considered instead in order to preserve as
much of the information as possible. It is the owner of the work who
decides how best to preserve it, with due respect for the artist's
droit moral.

On the other hand, if the work suddenly displays damages while in
the custody of the museum, then it is a matter for the insurance. A
few years ago a Danish museum exhibited a privately owned copy of
"Merde d'Artiste" by Piero Manzoni, and it sprang a leak. The museum
was obliged to pay for restoration.

As any restorative activity that maintains the integrity of the work
is expensive, I am confident that the insurance will pay for
chemical analysis after all. Personally I doubt that the material is
phosphorus, but it might be a fluorescent chemical. Yours

George Brock-Nannestad

                  Conservation DistList Instance 18:18
                Distributed: Thursday, October 14, 2004
                       Message Id: cdl-18-18-005
Received on Friday, 8 October, 2004

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