All posts in “conservation”

New Cedar for Bunyon’s Chess

A brilliant conservator[1] once noted that “art conservation is a fight against entropy.” This is especially visible for works sited outside which require conservators, artists, and stakeholders to carefully consider what is essential for an outdoor sculpture to continue to exist for future generations. When the carved cedar elements of Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Bunyon’s Chess were no longer structurally stable, di Suvero and his studio worked closely with the Seattle Art Museum to explore the artwork and discover solutions.

Bunyon’s Chess was created by Mark di Suvero in 1965 for Virginia and Bagley Wright’s residence in Seattle. The family’s documentation of the creative process provides wonderful insight into the artwork.

In 2006 the Wrights promised the work to the Seattle Art Museum and it was moved to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The cedar elements had begun to show degradation in their original site but this accelerated at the park partially due to the exposed location and partially due to the natural deterioration of cedar. As cedar ages in an outdoor setting a number of events occur: the natural biocide slowly migrates out with water, the wood absorbs water at an increasing rate as it deteriorates, fungal deterioration is common, as well as insect and wildlife damage. The logs of Bunyon’s Chess were treated annually with a fungicide to slow the fungal deterioration but without major visual interventions such as end caps or moving the sculpture to an interior location, deterioration continued at a fairly rapid pace.

In 2009 an in-depth condition assessment was performed which determined that the deterioration, particularly on the interior had progressed to a state where the logs were in danger of falling. In 2010, the logs were consolidated, the large losses filled and the exterior coated to prolong the life. During this period research and conversations with di Suvero regarding the replacement were begun as this treatment could not prolong the life of the cedar indefinitely. Di Suvero determined that new logs could be carved to replace the original cedar, as it is the visual integrity of the work that is important.

After much research, new cedar of the similar dimensions and tight ring growth was sourced for carving. Seattle artist Brian Beck peeled the logs in preparation for carving.

Kent Johnson and Daniel Roberts from di Suvero’s studio traveled to Seattle and carved the new logs using the original cedar elements as a guide.

Beck worked with Johnson and Roberts to create the same join between the two logs. Much of the original hardware such as the 36” bronze bolts and galvanized steel eyehooks were presevered and reused on the newly carved elements.

If you look carefully, at the top of the sculpture you will note a slight bend in the top tube. Di Suvero wanted this natural bend to remain but believed this opportunity should be used to reinforce the structure.

Fabrication Specialties Ltd. worked with the di Suvero studio to create an interior support which was welded in place.

The logs were strung with new stainless steel cabling and were carefully measured and marked to the lengths of the original cables to assist with the rigging. Larry Tate, Andrew Malcolm, Tracy Taft, Ignacio Lopez, and Travis Leonard of Fabrication Specialties placed the new logs within the original steel frame working closely with images and a model of the original. The di Suvero studio generously participated in video calls throughout the day.


Special thank you to: Mark di Suvero and Studio, Virginia Wright, Fabrication Specialties Ltd, Equinox Studios, Alta Forest Products, Brian Beck, Christian French, and Catharina Manchanda for helping preserve this public artwork free for everyone to enjoy at the Olympic Sculpture Park year round.

– Liz Brown, SAM Objects Conservator

Photos courtesy of Virginia Wright and Liz Brown.
[1] Lauren Chang
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Beneath the Surfaces: Conservation and Care at the Olympic Sculpture Park

Stroll through the Olympic Sculpture Park on a summer day, and you’ll find yourself immersed in an overload of the senses. The Puget Sound scents the air around Alexander Calder’s towering sculpture, The Eagle, with a salty freshness, while the waves below lap in the wind. Uninterrupted sunlight warms the curving, concrete benches of Roy McMakin’s Love & Loss to the touch. Bike commuters coast along the Elliott Bay Trail, an urban artery connecting bustling downtown Seattle and the neighborhoods to the north. But while visitors enjoy the natural and manmade beauty of the park, the outdoor sculptures on view are constantly under attack by the very elements that makes the park so special.

This coalescence of elements within the Olympic Sculpture Park provides a different sensory experience when your job is to preserve its works of art. SAM’s Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman explains, “It’s a pretty aggressive environment out there. When the sun does shine, it’s unimpeded and bounces off the Sound, creating very intense light levels. Unhindered wind also comes through, carrying salt and lots of pollution. All of these elements break down the sculptures’ materials over time.”

Love & Loss

Care for each sculpture in the park requires attention to a range of factors that include its materials and fabrication, the artist’s or foundation’s intentions, and SAM’s curatorial and exhibition design philosophies. It’s easy to understand that the illuminated ampersand in Love & Loss requires upkeep in order to keep glowing. However, even its concrete benches and paths are prone to deterioration. Once a sculpture requires intervention, the conservators must consider many questions before deciding on a solution. Liz Brown, SAM’s Objects Conservator, describes, “When I’m looking for a treatment system, I have to keep in mind everything from how the public might interact with the piece, to the artist’s intent, to how the sculpture and the materials we apply are going to react to the environment.”

Coating the surface of Love & Loss is one part of its conservation treatment. When the conservators found that the original acrylic-polyurethane coating wasn’t performing well within the interactive environment of the installation, Brown worked with artist McMakin to replace it with a water-borne acrylic paint designed for pools, which she reapplies every year in order to preserve the aesthetic he originally envisioned for the piece. By comparison, sculptures painted with matte, highly pigmented paints, such as The Eagle and Tony Smith’s Stinger, are susceptible to damage by human touch because oils and contact more easily mar and break down the underbound coatings. The park’s proximity to the Puget Sound also brings the problem of chloride corrosion, making the coatings’ maintenance essential to the preservation of the metal sculptures.

As summer approaches, much of the conservation work at the park moves from behind-the-scenes to more publicly visible processes. Brown will soon begin cleaning all of the art and treating areas where corrosion has appeared. Several larger projects will also take place. This year, she hopes to manage refabrication of the Love & Loss ampersand and to determine a painted surface that will work for that portion of the sculpture in the long term. The next time you’re at the park, sitting on Love & Loss may feel a bit different, knowing more about the care that lives both within and beneath its surface.

—Erin Langner, Freelance Arts Writer and Former SAM Adult Public Programs Manager

This post is the fourth installment in a series of stories exploring the history of the Olympic Sculpture Park in celebration of its 10th anniversary. Over the course of this year, we will continue reflecting on the Park’s evolution over the past decade.

Images:  Photo: Benjamin Benschneider. Love & Loss, 2005-2006, Roy McMakin, American, b. 1956, mixed media installation with benches, tables, live tree, pathways and illuminated rotating element, Overall: 288 × 480 in., Olympic Sculpture Park Art Acquisition Fund and gift of Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.2, photo: Benjamin Benschneider, © Roy McMakin. Stinger, 1967-68 / 1999, Tony Smith, American, 1912-1980, steel, painted black, 6 ft. 6 in. x 33 ft. 4 1/4 in. x 33 ft. 4 1/4 in., Gift of Jane Smith, 2004.117, photo: Paul Macapia © 2006 Estate of Tony Smith.
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Caring for our Collections

Mr. Kawazu surveying - Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu studies Japanese paintings at SAM for the Mellon conservation survey

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu studies Japanese paintings at SAM for the Mellon conservation survey

 

In 2013, the Seattle Art Museum received a generous three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of programs and initiatives in Asian Art. We dedicated the grant to two important areas for any museum: conservation and curatorial work. Through the grant, we will foster even better understanding of SAM’s rich Asian art collection and we will also forge new relationships with Asian museums, curators, artists and scholars. With these aims in mind, SAM staff visited a select number of partners in Asia last year and we welcomed two fascinating visitors in October 2014 in connection with this project.

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu examines a painting on the light table for the Mellon Survey

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu examines a painting on the light table for the Mellon Survey

A major goal of the Mellon grant is to conduct a comprehensive conservation survey of SAM’s great collection of Japanese painted scrolls and screens. The funding enables us to bring Japanese paintings conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu to SAM two times per year for the next three years to document the Japanese paintings collection, with specific focus on the materials and preservation state of each painting. In early October, Mr. Kawazu was at SAM for the first residency, during which he conducted a marathon evaluation of seventy-one Japanese paintings in two short weeks. Working closely with Chief Conservator Nicholas Dorman, Collections Care Manager Marta Pinto-Llorca and Project Coordinator Rachel Harris, Mr. Kawazu examined each painting, documenting its condition with detailed notes and close-up images. In spring 2015, Mr. Kawazu will return to evaluate a second group of Japanese paintings. Two important spin-offs of the survey are that the grant enabled us to set up a work station, equipped with the highly specialized tools and materials of the Asian paintings conservator. We are also able to take new photographs of all the surveyed objects, with SAM conservation staff shooting macro shots, inscriptions and other details and photographer Spike Mafford taking high-resolution shots of a selection of paintings.

Spike Mafford and his assistant photographing paintings for the Mellon survey

Spike Mafford and his assistant photographing paintings for the Mellon survey

Ukiyoe, Figure of a woman, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1689. The Mellon conservation survey provides unprecedented documentation and new photography of works like this that hail from the earliest days of the collection

Ukiyoe, Figure of a woman, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.1689. The Mellon conservation survey provides unprecedented documentation and new photography of works like this that hail from the earliest days of the collection

The curatorial track of the Mellon grant is also moving ahead. While Mr. Kawazu was examining Japanese paintings, Eunju Choi, Chief Curator of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) was also in residence at SAM. The Mellon grant provided funds to bring Ms. Choi to Seattle so that she could begin planning an exhibition with Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean art. Tentatively planned for late 2015, this exhibition will offer Seattleites a look at contemporary Korean art never before seen in our city.

While in residence at SAM, Ms. Choi gave a sold-out lecture titled: Korea Now: Contemporary Art from the MMCA, Korea. Her talk highlighted MMCA exhibits and offered insight into the work of important contemporary Korean artists. If you weren’t able to attend Ms. Choi’s lecture, check out this article for an overview of her talk: http://www.nwasianweekly.com/2014/10/vibrant-korean-contemporary-art-set-arrive-seattle/.

In very different ways, the conservation survey and the new curatorial collaborations give a terrific boost to our collection legacy and our Asian programs, we look forward to sharing its progress with you over the next two years.

 

Rachel Harris

Project Coordinator for Asian Art Collaborations

 

Nicholas Dorman

Chief Conservator

 

Xiaojin Wu

Curator of Japanese and Korean Art

 

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu and project coordinator Rachel Harris work on the Mellon survey to document the condition of Japanese paintings

Conservator Tomokatsu Kawazu and project coordinator Rachel Harris work on the Mellon survey to document the condition of Japanese paintings

 

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SAMart: Examining, interpreting, analyzing in public

The multidisciplinary field of art conservation involves the examination, interpretation, analysis and treatment of cultural, historic and artistic objects. Professional conservators rely on their knowledge of both the humanities and the sciences in order to understand the creation and production of material culture in the past and present, and to ensure its preservation for future generations.

After acquiring an extensive traditional technical understanding of clay and glazes, artist Robert Arneson experimented with these elements to push the medium in expressive and colorful new directions. Pool with Splash is currently undergoing conservation treatment before being put on view. This process has been visible to the public in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries at SAM since March. The final two days of public conservation are next Wednesday and Thursday, 17 and 18 April, so stop by SAM before then to see this behind-the-scenes activity.

Conservation intern Josh Summer working with Pool with Splash, 1977, Robert Arneson (American, 1930-1992), ceramic with glaze, 18 1/2 x 145 x 116 in. overall, Gift of Manuel Neri, 82.156, Art © Estate of Robert Arneson/Licensed by VAGA, New York NY. Conservation treatment on view to the public in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown, on Wed., 17 April and Thurs., 18 April.
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SAMart: New news on an Old Master

Struck by Cupid’s arrow, Venus conceived a defenseless passion for the handsome god Adonis. The lovers’ brief period of happiness will soon end tragically when Adonis is killed by a wild boar while hunting. The myrtle tree refers to eternal love, associated with Venus, and to Adonis’ miraculous birth after his mother was transformed into a myrtle tree. The broken tree trunk ominously symbolizes Adonis’ imminent death.

Veronese was renowned during his lifetime for his beautiful hues—like the orange and lavender on this canvas—and for the serene grandeur he brought to mythological and biblical stories. In the eighteenth century his popularity soared again, influencing artists in the SAM collection such as Tiepolo and Guardi.

Since October 2010, this painting has been undergoing conservation study and treatment. Please join us on 16 May as Nicholas Dorman, Chief Conservator, speaks on A Fresh View of the Old Masters: Conservation & Technical Studies in SAM’s European Galleries. This lecture is sold-out, but a simulcast is available free to members.

A Fresh View of the Old Masters: Conservation & Technical Studies in SAM’s European Galleries with Nicholas Dorman
Members Art History Lecture Series: New Perspectives
May 16, 2012
7:00–9:00 pm
Simulcast (free to members): Nordstrom Lecture Hall, first floor, SAM downtown

Venus and Adonis (pictured prior to treatment), before 1580, workshop of Paolo di Gabriele di Piero Caliaro (known as Veronese), Italian, 1528-1588, oil on canvas, 88 3/8 x 66 1/4 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.174. Not currently on view.
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Kanō Takanobu, (1571-1618) fusuma “The Four Accomplishments"

Not Your Ordinary Screen Savers

Apropos the fabulous Golden “Bamboo and Poppies” Kanō school screens, and the other famous and beloved screens currently displayed in Luminous: The Art of Asia, the Seattle Art Museum’s collection of approximately 70 Asian screens, has been recently rehoused in the best state-of-the-art storage cabinets available thanks to a generous federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

SAM’s significant collection of Asian screens includes paintings of singular artistic and cultural importance. The screens range in date from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. Together with our collection of hanging scrolls, they convey to visitors an experience of splendid art and vivid impressions of the story of painting in Japan, China and Korea.

Although SAM’s collection has a handful of Chinese wood, lacquered and cinnabar panel screens, the bulk of the collection is comprised of Japanese and Korean painted screens. The Japanese screens at SAM fall into two categories, the byōbu, or folding screens (from two up to eight panels) and the fusuma, or sliding screens, typical partitions used to divide large rooms in temples or castles. Both of these styles are represented in Luminous.

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Milo and Henry in the Early American Modernism gallery.

Our Summer with SAM

This summer, two very bright and curious high school seniors helped out in the museum’s curatorial division. Milo and Henry spent their summer helping organize our object records, and researching several works in the SAM collection. Here, they write about their experience.
 
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