40th Annual Meeting- Book and Paper Session May 09: “Change the Frame and You Change the Game?:Research and Re-evalution of the Presentation Formats of the Kunstammlung’s Paul Klee Collection” By Nina Quabeck

The focus of this presentation was the search –or self-described quest- by the staff of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf to return their collection of Paul Klee works to their original presentation formats.  The speaker began by giving the genesis of the Paul Klee collection at museum which has recently acquired their 100th Paul Klee artwork. 

Through study of photographs of Klee’s studio and gallery exhibitions combined with the detailed handwritten cataloging Klee himself kept of completed artworks (predominately if not exclusively paintings) lends much insight into the manner in which the works on paper were likely displayed as well.  The studio catalog was transcribed in entirety in the nine volume catalog raissone of Klee.  Currently the collection of works on paper is predominately framed in a typical “gallery” style format with a gilded molding and textile covered wooden liners.   It is likely these frames were the addition of owners or dealers to increase the cache of the artworks as Klee’s original presentations were likely very modest.  The research into what the original or appropriate presentation style of these works has lead the conservators and curators to choose to display the works on paper in a uniform manner as they are not able to recreate the original presentation of each individual work.  The selected presentation format will be a simple, thin wooden molding frame, reminiscent of the plain strip frame used for many of the paintings, with a dark stain and white mats. 

In addition to the discussion of the framing of Klee’s works the speaker also touched on the topic of Klee’s use of a secondary support on which he typically made notations about the work.  She presented several examples from the Kunstsammlung’s collection in which the works have been removed from these secondary supports.  This lead to a discussion of the role these secondary supports played in Klee’s original presentation and the challenges this will present in proper display in the future. 

This was a very interesting presentation about a project which is taking a strong look at just how important presentation and framing formats can be to the intended aesthetic of a work.  While for some artists framing/presentation are secondary thoughts if thoughts at all but the scholarship of Paul Klee clearly shows that it was important to him and an integral part of the completion of an artwork prior to leaving the studio.  In this presentation Quabeck asserts that it is the duty of the conservator and curator to respect this in a similar way in which they respect the integrity of the image.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 09: “A Creative Obession: Materials and Techniques of the Self-Taught Artist James Castle” by Nancy Ash and Scott Homolka

In this presentation Nancy Ash reported on a study of the working methods and materials of James Castle a self-taught artist from rural Idaho conducted by conservators and conservation scientists at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.   This comprehensive study including visual examination and analytical testing was done in conjunction with a 2008 retrospective of Castle’s work organized by the PMA.   James Castle was born deaf and scholars are unsure of the extent of his communicative ability outside of visual representations as it is believed that he could not read or use sign language.  Castle is known for creating soot and spit drawings, full color drawings and painting and constructions.   In relation to his art it was purported that Castle never used commercially made art supplies, instead using only self-made or found media/ materials.  It was this piece of the James Castle enigma that PMA conservators and conservation scientists set out to unravel.

The first component of the study Ash described was the in depth visual examination in which conservators found it necessary to develop a language specific to the methods and materials of Castle’s work.  An example of this was the phrase “wiped soot wash” to distinguish that a dilute application of a soot and spit slurry was applied with a wad of material instead of a brush since using only the term  soot wash lends itself more toward an interpretation of brush work.  I found this idea of an artist directed or at least artist specific lexicon very interesting in that it likely increases descriptive accuracy.

In addition to the examination of the artworks attributed to Castel the PMA researchers were also allowed to examine the contents of his studio that were donated upon his death to a museum in Idaho.  Within this collection poster paints, colored pencils and other commercial art supplies of school arts and crafts type were found among buckets of soot, sticks shaped by the artist, food packages and other non- “art” supplies.

Analytical testing confirmed the use of both the non-traditional art materials such as soot as well as some of the commercial art supplies found in his studio in the finished artworks.  This was the first confirmation of characteristic components of stovepipe soot and enzymes present in spit in the soot and spit drawings.  Other unique media identified in this study were laundry bluing used as paint and dyes extracted from colored papers by wetting as an ink or paint.   An additional result of this project was the establishment of a chronology for some of Castle’s works based on the date of introduction for pigments such as the chrome oxide poster paint and/or food packaging and advertising slogans or images.

This study and this presentation highlight the complexity of the art of James Castle, an artist who left only his works to speak for themselves and himself.