September 1998 Volume 20 Number 3

Articles You May Have Missed

Susana Zubiate, Column Editor

"Mural Saved from Oblivion", in Art in America, May 1998, p.31.

América Tropical, is an 18 x 79 foot mural painted in 1932 by David Alfaro Siqueiros. It is located in Olvera Street in Los Angeles and is the Mexican muralist's only surviving public work in the U.S.A.

The Getty Conservation Institute has recently completed the first phase of a $3 million conservation project aimed at saving the mural. The goal of the project is to remove whitewash from the surface, stabilize the existing pigment, reinforce the supporting wall, and to build a shelter to protect it from the elements.

The painting was on view for only a year before being whitewashed due to its "inflammatory" subject matter. The mural's allegorical image is of a Mexican Indian crucified below an American Eagle and two mestizo rebels pointing rifles at the bird. The mural is said to have led to the artist's eventual deportation.

"West Side Mural Refreshed", Art in America, July 1998, p.25.

Knox Martin's Venus, a ten story mural painted in the 1970's on the side of a building in New York city has been restored by the artist. The faded mural was repainted using a new weather-resistant acrylic paint developed by the Golden Paint Company, a paint which is expected to last approximately 75 years.

"Faking It: How the Italians Have Taught the Chinese to Preserve Their Ancient Masterpieces Instead of Copying Them", by Alexander Stille, in The New Yorker, June 15, 1998, pp.36-42.

In 1995, the Chinese and Italian governments signed an agreement to set up the Xian Center for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Relics, with the Italians providing more than three million dollars in high tech equipment and a staff of instructors from [Michele] Cordaro's Conservation Institute [in Rome], and the Chinese supplying offices, personnel, and twenty-three students to learn a Western approach to art conservation.

Fundamental differences between traditional Chinese and present European approaches to conservation are discussed, including the divisions between a culturally cyclical versus a linear concept of time and history, and attitudes concerning copying, rebuilding, etc. The Asian tradition of preserving the human elements of the artisan's craftsmanship, using perishable materials, (rather than an emphasis on scientific preservation of original materials), has faltered in the 20th century, beginning with the overthrow of the last emperor, and accelerated by the effects of the Industrial, Communist, and Cultural Revolutions.

Particular problems that the Chinese now face, as they shift their approach to preservation, are illustrated in a discussion of the work being done at the Buddhist Longmen Caves and Museum near Luoyang.

"Saving Brancusi's Column", by Sarah King, in Art in America, July 1998, p.23,25.

Despite ongoing controversy and funding problems, the restoration of Constantin Brancusi's renowned Endless Column is slowly moving ahead. An update on the project is given noting some of the controversy regarding the necessity of the disassembly of the column, the amount of time the project is taking, and the intended overall scope of the project.

The 100 foot tall sculpture is made of large metal modules which are stacked on a steel spine. Since its installation in 1938 it has been subjected to vandalism and has been adversely affected by weather.

The restoration plan is to replace the corroded original steel spine with one of stainless steel. The proposal was in part influenced by the findings made during a study conducted by the Swedish Corrosion Institute. If the rest of their proposal is adopted, the restoration may include recoating the individual modules with a highly resistant copper lacquer (originally they were sprayed with molten bronze)

"A Crumbling Legacy", by Patrick Pacheco, in the Los Angeles Times, June 14, 1998.

A description of the crumbling architectural treasures of Havana, with commentary by conservator Rosa Lowinger of Los Angeles.

After 40 years of neglect under Castro's communism ­ during which time most of these buildings have not had so much as a paint job ­ these testaments to Cuba's past glories are in danger of being lost forever.

Everyday there are what the Cubans call "derumbes" (meaning collapses) as minor as decorative architectural elements tumbling from buildings, as major as entire structures falling into a sad heap of rubble, their broken grandeur left to glisten in the sun or the pale moonlight.

The chaotic fantasia of faded buildings are the memory of Havana's centuries-long history as the crossroads of the trading road. Since its colonialization by Spain in 1560, fortunes were made in tobacco, sugar, trading and shipbuilding, and money poured into the creation of lavish monuments to commerce and society, from Baroque mansions with lavish porticos, loggias and wrought-iron balconies, to Art Nouveau business offices surprisingly profligate with stained glass, to Art Deco apartment buildings accented with elaborate terrazzo floors and bronze and glass doors.

"Havana is probably the only place in the world where you can look through a Neoclassical portal and see a live rooster standing on a Soviet refrigerator," says Lowinger.

"Claim Denied", in the Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1998.

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts has rejected the Guatemalan government's demand that it return objects that experts say were looted from Maya grave sites two decades ago. The Boston Globe reported that the museum's rebuff was delivered two weeks ago, nearly seven months after it unveiled a major exhibition of antiquities from the Americas, only to have its gala opening clouded by charges that many of the artifacts were looted.

Guatemala's vice minister for culture, Carlos Enrique Zea Flores, told the Globe that he deplored the museum's decision. "We can not call them a museum because that is a term of honor," he said. "Their collectors buy looted pieces, and then they accept them."

A museum spokeswoman confirmed that it had denied the Guatemalan government's request to return the objects "after concluding that the government had no basis for any claim of ownership to the objects."

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