Volume 9, Number 1, Jan. 1987, pp.5-6

Conservation Center Helps to Prepare for the Anderson Building, LACMA's Newest Addition

by Sharon Blank and Catherine McLean

The opening of the Robert O. Anderson Building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art represented a tremendous and successful effort on the part of the entire museum staff. Over 90 of the works of art required the attention of the Conservation Center. For over a year, 16 Conservation Center staff members and 5 contractors, including Denise Domergue, Rosamond Westmoreland, and Rosa Lowinger, prepared a tremendous number of works of art for installation on three floors, totalling 50,000 square feet of exhibition space. Although LACMA was not immune to some of the common problems associated with newly constructed buildings, the conservation staff was able to deal with them so that all art could be displayed in a safe manner.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the installation was consulting with the artists. Modern art presents many ethical dilemmas to the conservator. Does a conservator's responsibility lie in preserving the work as it originally existed or should he or she incorporate the artist's current suggestions? Such choices sometimes involved fundamental conservation problems. The artist's suggestions were frequently useful, although some saw it as an opportunity to rework the piece. The artists were also invaluable allies. For the treatment of Eric Orr's Crazy Wisdom II (1982), the artist not only provided a new fragment of human skull, but drew his own blood to replace what had been lost from the edges of the piece.

The installation of the outdoor sculpture had to wait to the last moment until the engineers gave the "all clear" for the new Plaza to bear not only the weight of the heavy sculpture, but also the heavy machinery necessary to move it. The morning before the first opening found the entire conservation staff involved in last minute touches, including polishing railings and attaching labels. Anselm Kiefer's Das Buch (1985) proved difficult to install in situ, providing some exciting final moments. Lucas Samaras' mirrored Corridor (1967) was quite a cleaning job, but armed with squirt bottles, cloths and the able assistance of PIETER MEYERS, it was proven that conservators do indeed "do windows."

A few of the windows in the galleries were covered with screens to achieve the low light levels required for sensitive objects such as Peter Alexander's textile collage, Gulper (1982). One intriguing display technique was designed for light sensitive, unframed works of art on paper and books. Cabinets were constructed, each with 8" deep drawers covered with Plexiglass. Books were secured to rag board with Mylar and the rag board was fastened into the drawer with Velcro "buttons". For viewing, the visitor is instructed to gently open the drawers one at a time. This method was used successfully for a selection from Matisse's Jazz series (1947) and several Russian avant garde books, dating from 1913 - 1936 that were printed on poor-quality wood pulp paper. A few objects were placed in humidity controlled cases. For example, Scherer's massive woodcarving of a Sleeping Woman With Boy (1926) was placed in a humidity controlled case and it has been closely monitored over the past two months. So far, the preconditioned silica gel has maintained the desired relative humidity of 50%.

Remarkably, the three floors, including the special exhibition, "The Spiritual in Art Abstract Painting 1890 - 1985", which is on view through 8 March 1987, were installed in the three weeks prior to the first opening. Needless to say, the staff is still catching its breath!

Sharon Blank
Catherine McLean

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