AIC's 41st Annual Meeting, Wooden Artifacts Session, May 31st, “We Can Fix It, But Should We? Take 2: Contemporary Art Comes Knocking” By Tad Fallon

In addition to Rose Cull’s presentation on contacting the contemporary artist, or not, is a single case study by Tad Fallon. The object in question is a “Kosode” form cabinet titled “Meet Mr. Chips” by the California furniture maker, John Cederquist. I encourage everyone to check the website for images of other Kosode cabinets.
The cabinet is one of a series made of mixed woods, aniline dyes and epoxy resin and was completed in 2006. The owner had purchased it directly from a gallery exhibition. Displayed in a bright and sunny room in Connecticut, the highly decorated façade of the cabinet had faded dramatically, and the owner contacted Fallon and Wilkinson to have them treat it. The owner did not want to send it back to the artist for restoration.
Tad began the project with background research and then contacted John Cederquist directly. John was interested and friendly, and the conversation led to a visit by Tad to the artist’s studio. During the visit, Tad was given an in-depth tour by the artists assistant Chris Labont, and was able to take extensive notes and photographs of the artists materials, techniques and tools, enough to completely recreate the work from scratch.
However, the take-away was more complicated then that.
-From a conservators point of view, the materials and techniques were inherently problematic and prone to light damage.
-The large Kosode series techniques evolved over time and the techniques used at the end of the series were somewhat different from those used at the start.
-The range of materials available to the artist had changed over time, due to California VOC compliance.
-From the artist’s point of view, he had moved on, this was old work, and he was looking forward rather than back.
So what’s a conservator to do? The original work has faded and no longer resembles the original appearance or intent of the artist. The color and appearance cannot be “brought back” through intervention. The options are largely limited to:

  1. Leaving it alone.
  2. Creating a complete overlay from original materials on a reversible ground. (only marginally feasible)
  3. Restoring the façade completely using the artist original materials and techniques as recorded directly from the artist and artist’s assistant.
  4. Recreating the façade completely using improved materials that remain true to the original intent and appearance of the artist.

Not easy choices, not one of them. What would you do? I for one truly hope that Tad will be able to present “Take 3” next year!