Conservation DistList Archives [Date] [Subject] [Author] [SEARCH]

Subject: Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing

Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing

From: Niccolo Caldararo <caldararo<-a>
Date: Tuesday, August 26, 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?

Indeed to the heart of the conservator.  This reminds me of the time
a curator had recommended a painting for purchase to the De Young
Museum board.  Terri Picante and I X-rayed it as we had been given
the brief of examining the painting for condition and to give an
assessment of how much over paint there was.  The painting was
beautiful, a fabulous work of color, shade and tone sold as a
revered European Old Master.  When we looked at the X-rays we could
not believe it.  We repeated our films several times to be sure.  We
then estimated that original paint only survived on less than 10% of
the canvas.  The painting had been subjected to water and fire
damage several times, had been lined and apparently relined and then
battered with a number of campaigns of inpainting, cleaning,
varnishing and more inpainting. What had not been destroyed by
disaster, perhaps war and rebellion, was lost to the desperate
efforts of restorers, who like physicians to dying patients had
applied every remedy to their expiring subject.

We presented our findings to the Board and it seemed sure that it
would be rejected, at least to me a young and naive person.  To
Terri, however, it seemed clear, it would be bought since the board
was "in love with the idea of the painting, not its reality."  In
defense of the purchase and against our detailed report, the curator
had argued that the canvas preserved the aroma of the artist, it
contained his soul and transmitted to the generations the essence of
the genius that remained in the canvas in so minute a quantity.  I
was astonished, Terri was vindicated in her cynicism, or perhaps I
should say, knowledge of human behavior and I was forced to pay up
on the lost bet and buy her lunch.

In the case of the LeWitt painting, however, we are faced with a
different dilemma.  In the early 1980s when I was first asked by a
curator to "preserve the residue of an artist's performance" I
responded to the question as if I had been asked to examine a crime
scene or archaeological site.  When it sunk in that I was being
asked to preserve the remains of smashed objects, and other debris
in a way that would allow them to be displayed as an "event" of the
happening that people could walk through while listening to a tape
recording of the actual "art piece," I was amused.

This is a animal of a different color and despite the artist's
initial desires the work does have an afterlife.  The present
condition of the original was hopefully recorded in photographic
form, new information could be gleaned by the use of infrared, UV,
etc.  I believe that we can interpret the "wall board" as a form of
sheet rock containing an outer layer of poor quality paper?  If so
then the problem can be reduced to the preservation of surfaces and
layers, the original, the paper, the overpaint and some curatorial
idea of the way the work should appear today.

Niccolo Caldararo
Director and Chief Conservator
Conservation Art Service

                  Conservation DistList Instance 22:14
                 Distributed: Sunday, September 7, 2008
                       Message Id: cdl-22-14-005
Received on Tuesday, 26 August, 2008

[Search all CoOL documents]