The National Gallery of London is offering a unique look into the restoration of Artemisia's Self Portrait. I highly recommend following them and this process on their many platforms.
All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (detail), 2016. Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, b. 1929)
Well, at least, according to John Kasich, Ohio's (R) governor. After visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art and touring Yayoi Kusama's current show, Kasich was taken by the artwork's ability to transcend the political divide by inspiring imagination.
“Nobody who would go through here would say, ‘Well I’m a Republican, and it looked this way.’ And ‘I’m a Democrat,” the governor said. “People hang out here, they might have lunch together, and actually have a few laughs instead of fighting with one another all the time.”
Let's assume Kasich is right, that museums can be a safe space to get away from the chaos and tumult of politics, an idea which I have always believed, we should all be visiting galleries and museums EVERY day! I do feel somewhat deflated that it takes a political figure to bring attention to this very obvious, at least among artists, gallerists, and museums, the fact; we need beauty, we need art.
As a painting restorer, I get asked, "Am I doing this right?", a lot. My immediate answer is usually, "well that depends." Avoiding ethical debates and side stepping art history professors wanting to compartmentalize "art" and "right", I just have two questions for artists; what materials are you using and in what order?
Materials and application are very important not only to the artist's statement but to the longevity of the piece. With new paint mediums being developed weekly, artists need to be informed about their chemistry. Oooo, combining art and science... (artists today know how economical it can be to have a conservator on speed dial). However, a basic knowledge of historical application can be applied to todays materials, "thick over thin" when using oils, "water is heavier than oil" when blending oils and acrylic, and "graphite can't be washed away". The chemical, molecular reasoning behind these traits is, frankly, unnecessary in order to understand the point. These have all been tested by past artists and found to be true. Since we are faced with new materials every few weeks, artists are finding the inundation of new "stuff" too appealing to not use and older methods are just that, old. But as a chemist, "newness" of the material doesn't change the principles which are still the same and still apply. You can't beat chemistry.
When the work is complete and it's time for the final coat of varnish, the question returns, "Am I doing this right?". When it comes to acrylic or any other poly based medium (read labels), the work is already sealed to environmental conditions since it's already made of a plastic derivative. So that leaves oils. As many oil painters know, oil takes a long time to dry; rule of thumb dictates a year before varnishing. There are, however, synthetic varnishes that can be applied throughout the drying process that maintain the visual experience but will not interfere with the oils' drying. Soluvar is good go to, it's easily mixed to the consistency needed and easily sprayed for a final varnish.
The restoration of Vermeer's Girl Reading a Letter by a Window will be completed in 2019. I can't wait to see the saturated colors of the piece once restored!
When it comes to restoring paintings, I've found there are two approaches; historical and artistic. Historical approach being when a painting is looked at and examined within the confines of it's place and time in history. With artistic eyes a painting is seen in the present. We all wish we could've seen a Rembrandt fresh off the easel; smell the paint; feel the weight of the oils.
Alas, physicists have taught us we cannot go back in time. Painting restorers have learned that when we try to force paintings back in time, we fall short.
GUGGENHEIM AWARDED $3M ENDOWMENT FOR CONSERVATION FROM MELLON FOUNDATION
'The grant, which the museum will need to match two-to-one (raising an additional $6 million), endows the position of deputy director and chief conservator, held since 2007 by Carol Stringari, and a new position, director of engagement, conservation and collections.' ...
'Stringari expressed her gratitude in a phone conversation. “We are so honored and excited about the grant,” she said. “It’s an extraordinary endorsement of the interdisciplinary work we’ve been doing for the past several years and hope to do in the future. Conservation has come a long way in terms of its ability to reach out to the public and let them know what it means to preserve cultural heritage. It’s no longer a field where the work stays in a lab, especially at our institution.”'
I had the pleasure of meeting Carol Stringari during a conservators tour of the Guggenheim's Alberto Burri exhibition. She discussed the research efforts that went behind the paintings. While most of Burri's work had been well documented, the aging process of the modern materials and techniques Burri used needed to be followed very closely with meticulous research. Not many artists of the time worked destruction of materials into the work. Burri used new, for the time, synthetic adhesives and coatings to seal and protect his torn burlap canvases. He would also use thick coats of PVA to varnish his paintings. As time passed, this technique has very slightly yellowed and in some cases has become cloudy. After researching, it was the opinion of the conservators that this was an intentional element of the works life. The Guggenheim's conservation department is an integral part in the continuing documentation of artist's materials.
While the grant shows well deserved recognition of a world class art conservation department, I am concerned about the amount of attention needed to continue conservation research effort being over-shadowed by the necessity to fund-raise in order to keep the endowment for the future.
There isn't enough continuity in todays art world to have any cohesive art movement signifying our time.
I don't really care whether you think I like these works or not. I am saying we are in an unfocused period in our art history. An individual may find themselves with direction and vision regarding there own work, but they are individuals in the end. Will one have a lasting impact in our time, or will it require the whole?
Where do todays artists belong if we continue to force ourselves out of the past and toward uncertainty only to fall back on the tested methodology? Is that what is required for progress? The principles of design are the same through time. We, as artists, manipulate them, focus them, twist them to speak for us. But in the end the pieces speak only one voice and sadly, I feel, that voice will be lost in the crowd.
So it seems the Andy Warhol Foundation is unloading some 20,000 artworks of Andy's in the early spring of next year in hopes to expand their $250m endowment fund for museums supporting new innovative artists as well as giving their sub-foundation, Creative Capital, a deeper well. The photos, silkscreens, paintings, instillations, drawings are expected to add an additional $100m to the fund's flexibility.
A Wall Street Journal article states, "this selloff could significantly recalibrate his prices because the foundation is putting so many pieces into broader circulation for the first time." 'Recalibrate' is such a nice way of saying this move will potentially tank the price value of any Warhol in any collection today! The principles of supply and demand are about to be tested.
Forbes recently had an editorial offering the opinion that outsourcing, i.e. having the ability to create more for less money, signifies that "more products mean a higher standard of living." Now remove from your mind that the author is referring to things like iPhones, and apply that statement to art and more directly to Andy's works. Also remove the implications of this statement can only be referred to outsourcing! So, more of Andy's artworks mean a higher standard of living (for those lucky enough to afford them). Maybe. Keep in mind that these works are not the masterworks of Campbell's soup-cans, but are the in-between sketches and ideas for the larger works. That's not to say they are of any less quality just that they are lesser known. Maybe the better way to phrase it is, when applied to art, the 'more products, if they're good, mean a higher standard of living.'
Christies will certainly have its hands full next spring!
Students in any art institute today are taking courses known as 'Art Theory'. These courses are primarily set up to open the viewers mind to the newest art forms out there today and to learn how to appropriately appreciate them. Key word being 'appropriately'. The viewer must be able to see the work for its intention not it's beauty or it's vulgarity. The image itself is not the artwork, the intention or the emotion evoked is the true art. My argument is - If the physical work is not the art, why should anyone need to wrack their brains to come up with a way to restore it, why not write the description on an info card next to a blank spot on the wall and cut out the guesswork?
Now that I live in the great city of New York, I frequent the marvelous museums the city has to offer. On one of these trips to the MOMA, a friend and I found that the crowded galleries were those without the guesswork. I can imagine a docent's ability to explain Cezanne is more valuable than their capability to explain Adjustable Wall Bra by Vito Acconci, whose explanation is simple but unconnected with the physical piece; "I want to put the viewer on shaky ground," Acconci has said, "so he has to reconsider himself and his circumstances." I am of the training where art is the sum of all its parts: the stroke, the colour, the composition, the craftsmanship. I see the piece for what it is: a mega bra carefully suspended with tension wire. The beauty may be in the sculptural capability of the artist but the emotion evoked in me has entirely missed the mark of what Acconci intended.
So what are we left with? An entire generation of artists fighting to create something that will evoke a new unfelt emotion in the viewer as opposed to creating an image of a moment in time that may not carry with it the limitations of the artists own emotional intentions.
Search 'painting restoration potato' you'll find a group of people who have been fooled by the idea of cleaning a painting with a freshly cut potato and some have used onions. While the initial affect is the desired one, the painting will darken substantially over time. The way it works is the carbohydrates in the potato will react with the linseed oil in the paint (linseed is the binder in most oil paints) practically removing the oils from the paint. The reason varnishes and paints change colour and darken is because they oxidize, sort of like rust forming on steel. Removing the varnish and even the oils in paint is the same as removing the clear coat on a car, you are inviting damage to the paint. Varnish and oil protect the pigments (essentially crushed minerals, dirt, or even bone) from oxidizing and destroying themselves. The potato trick might make the painting look nice for now but soon enough you wont have a painting left to save.