In the special “Museums” supplement to the March 15, 2018 issue of The New York Times, Joseph B. Treaster provides an update on the situation of the museums in Puerto Rico months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island ( “Museums in Puerto Rico Struggle to Recover” ). In one sentence: There’s a lot to be done and it will be very expensive.
An article by Eve M. Kahn in the “Design” supplement to the March 8, 2018 issue of The New York Times (“When Furniture Fails the Test of Time” ), acknowledges the terrible truth about furniture made from experimental plastics— it discolors, oozes, explodes, melts, and generally falls apart. The only upside to this is the exciting challenges and employment it provides to conservators. As Susanne Granier, head of conservation at the Vitra Design Museum (Weil am Rhein, Germany) is quoted saying, “What a joyless world it be, and how many fewer conservators there would be, if designers didn’t take risks.”
According to Nektaria Stamouli, writing in the March 9, 2018 issue of The Wall Street Journal (“In Greece, Buried Ruins Lead to Sunken Costs” ),it is nearly impossible to develop property in Greece because the discovery of buried artifacts—which are everywhere—requires work to stop, an archaeological survey to be undertaken , and plans to be redrawn or abandoned. Investment and development is essential if Greece is to emerge from its economic depression. The very difficult question this raises is should the conservation of a country’s past endanger its present and future well being?
The Arts Section of the Monday February 26, 2018 issue of The New York Times contained an article by Nina Segal about the Mauritshuis’ technical study of Vermeer’s “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” (“Investigating Secrets of a Portrait”) and the Science Section of the Tuesday February 27, 2018 issue contains an article by Kenneth Chang about the investigation of Picasso’s “La Misereuse accroupie” ( Art Gallery of Ontario) that was carried out by scientists from the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts, a collaboration between Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago (“Scanners Discover Secrets From Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’”). I wonder which section of The New York Times will host an article about conservation on Wednesday.
Recently, Hyperallergic published “A Collection of 3,000 Pigments Made from Cow Urine, Shells, Insects, and More”, a lengthy post by Claire Voon about the newly published An Atlas of Rare & Familiar Colour (Atelier Éditions) and the Forbes Pigment Collection housed in Harvard University’s Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, several hundred of whose specimens are featured in the book. Although the collection has been on public display since 2014, Edward Waldo Forbes and the Forbes Pigment Collection are not household names. As Hyperallergic.com receives almost 1 million unique visitors each month, just think about how many people now know something about Forbes and his collection.
On Friday February 2, 2018, when I opened The Wall Street Journal to the second page, I saw a photograph of Rhona McBeth at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston looking into a microscope as she examined a Rembrandt painting (“Great Artwork Gets Careful Cleaning at the Museum”). There was no article; only a caption that noted that, over the next year, paintings will be cleaned at the museum in the view of visitors. To find information (however little) about conservation in such a prominent location is a good thing.
In the January 29, 2018 issue of The New Yorker, Calvin Tomkins profiles Danh Vo (“The Whole Thing is Crazy”) , an artist whose large survey show will open at the Guggenheim Museum on February 9th . Describing one series of works which Vo began making in 2009, Tomkins says, “The collages consist of Roman marble busts, medieval wooden saints and Madonnas and other relics that he finds in antique shops or buys at auction; he cuts each one up into tow of more parts, and joins part of one to part of another.” While not every genuine art work is historically or aesthetically important or belongs in a museum collection, there is something about Vo’s destruction of art works which I find unsettling.
In the January 14, 2018 issue of The New York Times there is an article by Elisabetta Povoledo about a report by the Italian art expert Isabella Quattrocchi which claims that almost a third of the works in a 2017 Modigliani exhibit in Genoa were forgeries (“Authenticity of Modigliani Works Questioned” ). The photograph accompanying the article in both the print and online editions shows a woman retouching or inpainting the frame of a Modigliani painting. The caption reads, “The painting ‘Ritratto di Chaim Soutine’ (‘Portrait of Chaim Soutine’), attributed to Modigliani in an exhibition in Genoa”, making no mention of the activity going on in the photograph. Here is another lost opportunity to bring the conservator’s work to the public’s attention.
Jason Farago’ s December 22, 2017 New York Times review of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World’s exhibit, “Restoring the Minoans: Elizabeth Price and Sir Arthur Evans” gives one the opportunity to think about the role that aesthetic or cultural biases have played in restoration. Evans excavated on Crete in the early years of the 20th century. His reconstructions of Minoan frescoes and architectural details, recorded in watercolors by artists he employed, display an Art Nouveau aesthetic. Price has used video and digital media to reconstruct Evans’ reconstruction of Minoan civilization. It may take a century to see whether her reconstruction is free of the aesthetic biases of the early 21st century.
As someone who is involved in an ongoing study of people’s reactions to, and feelings of ownership of, the public art in their neighborhood, I was pleased to read in Colin Moynihan’s article in the December 18, 2017 issue of The New York Times (“Newcomer’s Bricks Conceal Colorful Harlem Mural, to Leaders’ Dismay” ), that when a Footaction store covered over with a brick wall “Spirit of Harlem”, a mosaic on a building on the corner of 125th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Harlem, there was an outcry by the residents of the neighborhood, a petition to reverse this action, and a statement by the company that it would remove the wall. If the covering wall does come down, it will be a victory for public participation in decision making about the preservation of public art.