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Subject: Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing

Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing

From: Berit Moller <beritmoller<-a>
Date: Sunday, August 17, 2008
Mark Clarke <mark [at] clericus__org> writes

>Chantal Bernicky <bernickyc [at] carnegiemuseums__org> writes
>>A large Wall Drawing by Sol Lewitt was installed in 1986 and
>>repainted in 2007 at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Serious cracks in
>>the drywall substrate have developed with time and seem to have been
>>made worse by the 2007 repainting. The paint, priming layers,
>>drywall and joint compound are severely delaminating at the cracked
>>areas and our attempts to control the situation have been
>>unsuccessful so far.
>This is an interesting post which goes to the heart of what are
>conservators trying to achieve.
>*Why* is this drawing being conserved?
>I may be wrong or missing something here, and I am not the curator
>of this example, and it is not my place to criticise the decision to
>restore it, but my understanding of Sol Lewitt's wall drawings was
>always that he rejected the idea that these were 'original'
>works--rather, the art work consists of a set of detailed
>instructions for making the drawings. They were then made, to
>specification, by a team of technicians, assistants, whoever, but
>not by the artist.
>Surely it misses the point to restore it? Rather than wasting
>valuable conservator time here, the thing could (or indeed, should)
>simply be done again by a gang of art students, or decorators.

First of all it is not the conservators job to determine wether or
not to conserve an art work like the described by Sol Lewitt.

We must assume that a group of professionals consisting of art
historians and conservators have asked themselves this question and
have decided that a repainting was the best way to live up to the
ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums of preserving a work of art for the

What is it that they want to preserve? The actual physical work of
art, the physical work as documentation of the event (the assistants
interpretation of the instructions by Lewitt) or the knowledge of

Sol Lewitt's works of art, as you say, are based on statements and
instructions and are executed by assistants. They form a certain
expression that is due to the way they interpret the Lewitt
statement. However if an other group of assistants in an other time
(e.g the future) of for that matter the same group of assistants
execute the same statement  in the same room the result--the
artwork--will probably look different. How big the difference is, is
determined by the assistants knowledge of the original work. The
more they know, the closer the resemblance.  But there will always
be a difference. If you let conservators execute the work the
outcome will probably be different in an other way.

In short it is a very difficult decision to make: Shall we let the
original work perish because it was not made by the artist himself
(But he was there and he chose the assistants) or conserve the work
as it is (by paintings conservators) or redraw the work (by whom?).

In this case it was chosen to redraw the work and we must accept the
choice. It was probably made with all the considerations imaginable.

The question now is an other matter: Why try to save something that
is a copy of the original work?

I think the original decision makers must go back to the drawing
board and restart the discussion because the conservation problems
described regarding the art work is now completely different since
it is no longer the original work.

Berit Moller
Paintings Conservator
Master of Science
Rosenborg Palace

                  Conservation DistList Instance 22:12
                 Distributed: Saturday, August 23, 2008
                       Message Id: cdl-22-12-003
Received on Sunday, 17 August, 2008

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