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.
Arneson’s self-portraits mix irreverence, informality, and humor. From a distance this head looks suspiciously like a straightforward echo of a classical bronze, complete with empty eye sockets. Close inspection reveals that Arneson has ‘defaced’ it with such punning phrases as: “It Is eye; I am it; it is me; find this mind of mine.’ The wordplay continues on the pedestal, which is decorated with a daunting alphabetical list of ‘self’ adjective, beginning with ‘self-abased.’ ‘Me & My Self’ is impressed word by word on the four sides of the base. The artist created the pedestal for this self-portrait more than a decade after the work had entered the museum collection. The pedestal (on view, but not pictured here) is not only a structural support but adds another ironic twist to the composition.
This Head Is Mine, 1981, Robert Arneson, American, 1930-1992, bronze, 24 x 19 x 20 in., Gift of Manuel Neri (pedestal, not pictured: Gift of the Artist and Rena Bransten in memory of Howard Kottler), 84.222, © Robert Arneson. Currently on view in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM downtown.