Painting conservation and its many layers

By: Cassi Amman

Have you ever wondered how works of art can survive through centuries of existence? Have you ever seen a painting or sculpture in a museum that has been taken down for “conservation”? If you have, that means a conservator deemed the artwork unstable and in need of intervention by hand to restore it.

Conservation by definition:

Conservation is the process of analyzing works of art and taking proper measures to ensure that they endure for more years to come. This process is careful to consider the original intent of the artist and the materials that were used when creating the artwork. In a field working with art of every age, medium, and size, it is natural that conservation has many different divisions in order to address the complexities of a given object. These categories generally fall under paintings, prints, photographs, textiles, and objects. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on paintings.

Conservators working in the field of painting focus their attention on studying the history of the paintings in their care. However, there is more that goes into restoring a painting than just touching up some paint. Here are some basic steps:

  • To begin, the conservator must become well acquainted with the materials and intent of the artwork. With this information, they will know how best to approach restoring the painting.
  • Close examination is the next step. Conservators harness natural light, ultraviolet light, x-radiography, and infrared technology in order to see the under layers of paint and canvas. Doing so, they can better see the artist’s process in addition to any painting that has been added by previous restorative sessions.
  • Before contemporary conservative ethics and processes were established, previous restorative additions were intrusive, unethical in relation to artist intent, and possibly damaging over the long-term life of the painting. Now, with better research in chemical and ethical aspects of paintings, conservators are better able to restore paintings for extended survival.

As Indianapolis Museum of Art’s painting conservator, Linda Witkowski states, “In art conservation, all good things take time.”

  There are many different restorations that a painting can go through:

Conservators look for condition issues such as peeling paint, bubbles on the surface, holes punched in the canvas, old and discolored varnish, excessive crackling, loose frame marks, and many other surface malfunctions that indicate age or structural instability. Now, conservators even look for previous restorations that go against artist intent or museum practice and intervene to bring the piece back to what is was meant to be. One of my favorite restorative processes is the removal of old, dirty varnish in favor of new, clean varnish. This allows the viewer to see the original colors and image the artist had in mind that had been blocked or discolored by old varnish.

Here in the David Owsley Museum of Art:

There is currently four-sided, painted, wooden altar panels being conserved in the West Gallery on the upper floor. If you have visited the museum recently, you have probably seen these panels are noticeably covered with rectangles of Japanese tissue paper. The work is titled, Saint John the Baptist with Saint Lawrence on the reverse; Saint John the Evangelist with Saint Catherine on the reverse, by Marten de Vos and is located near the middle of the West Gallery.

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The paper you see on the paintings is a restorative measure in setting the paint chips back down to the surface of the board it was painted on. When paintings experience a sudden difference in environment, humidity, or other external factors, they can expand and shrink. This movement causes paint to bubble, crackle, or flake. In the case of the de Vos, the paint had started bubbling and flaking. Since conservation is a long process and takes much planning, it is often required to create preventative measures while set times are planned out to restore. Then, painting conservators Michael Ruzga and Linda Witkowski will return to the project and remove the paper in favor of a more long term restoration.

The process entails using a safe, chemically stable substance to adhere the paint back to the panel. The conservators will also look at the varnish to ensure that it is even, clean and matches the other panels. Lastly, sometimes with paintings, conservators will touch up paint with expert color matching skill. However, and the materials used are reversible and can be removed in the future if necessary.

Challenges to conservation:

More pressure comes from societal expectations that a work must remain pristine. This causes conservators to start preserving artworks much sooner than they usually would. For example, conservators must keep in mind if it is ethical to try to maintain a work of ephemeral art that is meant to deteriorate. In a video on contemporary art conservation at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, conservators explained that a piece such as “Fishman,” created in 1969 by Paul Thek, was not created to survive but for the experience of viewing it. The sculpture, created out of latex, has already started falling apart due to the firming nature of latex over time. Conservators question whether it is appropriate to attempt repairing the artwork or whether the experience of viewing it in the moment is more of the objective.

It will be interesting to see how conservators will tackle these new issues in years to come. In the meantime, please stop by DOMA to see how the altar panels evolve. Michael Ruzga and Linda Witkowski will return to work on the panels March 25-March 29, 2017.

Follow DOMA on Twitter and Instagram @domaatbsu.

Observation: Corban Walker

By Breyanne Urbin

Art lovers joined us at the David Owsley Museum of Art on Thursday, February 23 to welcome Corban Walker and Lisa Banner. Walker is one of three featured artists in SHIFT, a contemporary sculpture exhibition at the David Owsley Museum of Art, curated by Dr. Lisa Banner. The two of them presented and talked about the masterful artwork of Walker to David Owsley Museum of Art’s visitors in Recital Hall.

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Pictured: Corban Walker and Lisa Banner on stage at First Person: Corban Walker (Photo by Emma Rogers)

Born and raised in Dublin, Corban Walker stays busy all around the world working on his art. Linearity dominates his art style; sometimes, Walker likes to make chaos with linearity but a majority of his work tends to be very orderly and simple. To explain why his art is usually so simplistic, Walker quoted Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957, Romanian Sculptor) in his presentation saying, ‘Simplicity is complexity resolved.’ Walker will also involve his viewers into his art whether it is by making his art an obstacle for the viewer to overcome or by using translucent material to catch the viewer’s eye. The art becomes interactive.

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Pictured: Observation, 2012, Corban Walker (Photo from corbanwalker.com)

Standing at four feet tall, Walker uses his art to challenge his viewers’ mindset on what “normal” really means which he mentioned this idea during his speech. Since I have been involved with SHIFT, this semester, I personally found it interesting to learn more about Walker’s art outside of SHIFT. I loved hearing about his art process and how he makes the viewers such an important element in his work.

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Pictured: The second gallery in SHIFT. (Photo by Steven Talley)

Lisa Banner, who joined Walker on stage for his presentation, is a professor at the well-known Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Director Dr. Robert La France describes her as, “A scholar and curator of old masters.” Near the end of the event, I was able to interview her about her decision to curate SHIFT. Banner explained to me that she saw a relation between Christopher Smith and Jongil Ma’s work as the work of both speak the same artistic language and share visual similarities. She added Walker into the mix as the three artists focused on architectural structure and linearity.When Banner talks about SHIFT, it’s obvious to me she has great passion and dedication to art.

The work of Ma and Walker both share the interesting element of tension as no adhesive is used in some of their artwork, which Banner said, “Attracts me, so delicate and vulnerable but so convincing all at the same time.”

Pictured left to right: MINUS WITH CLAMPS, 2014, Jongil Ma (Photo by Steven Talley);  Untitled (Stack K), 2010, Corban Walker (Photo by Steven Talley)

Once the presentation concluded, visitors were able to mingle in the Sculpture Court and visit the SHIFT exhibition. Before leaving, Walker voiced his appreciation for all the student helpers that made the exhibition possible. Everyone was also given an opportunity to individually speak with Walker or Banner at this time. People seemed to have a pleasant time during the event. Jongil Ma and Christopher Smith will be here at the David Owsley Museum of Art for their First Person presentation on April 20 and SHIFT will be open through May 7.

Follow the David Owsley Museum of Art on Twitter and Instagram @domaatbsu and like us on Facebook.

Museum packed for exhibition-inspired performance

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As guests filed into the Sculpture Court at the Music in the Museum event, it quickly became apparent that a much larger crowd than expected wanted a chance to see Jim Rhinehart’s improvisational performance. In addition to packing every seat, students and community members filled the stairs and balcony to hear the music inspired by the museum’s current special exhibition SHIFT: Jongil Ma, Christopher Smith, Corban Walker.

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Guests closed their eyes while listening to the nearly hour-long performance, eliminating any distractions from around the room in order to simply take in the music. After the performance, guests were invited to view the exhibition for themselves, forming their own opinions about the work and what it means to them personally. It isn’t often that the visual art and music worlds combine in a live performance, but this event successfully combined the two for an inspiring night at the museum.

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After the event, Jim said, “Thank you to everybody who attended the concert last night! It was great to see so many people taking in the art that Muncie has to offer! And a big thank you to the staff and interns of the David Owsley Museum of Art – you guys ROCK!”

Check out Jim’s blog here: http://www.jimrhinehart.com/shift-blog/archives/01-2017

Follow the David Owsley Museum of Art on Twitter and Instagram @domaatbsu and like us on Facebook.

Blog by Emma Rogers

Diverse representation and the arts

Diversity and inclusivity are issues that art commonly addresses, but they are not as visible in the art world as many people would like. Many times the most famous artists were white and male, while talented female and minority artists were swept under the rug. The David Owsley Museum of Art has a broad collection of artists of various ethnic backgrounds as well as artists that represent diversity in their work. Here are just a few:

Harriet Goodhue Hosmer 

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Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, born October 9, 1830 and died February 21, 1908, was a distinguished female sculptor in America and is credited to have “led the flock” of other female sculptors. In her time period of the 19th century, women rarely had careers, especially as sculptors. They were not allowed the same art education as men because of gendered ideas about education. They were not allowed to attend classes and usually stayed home. Because of this, many times female artists created imagery and works depicting home life, usually children or scenery.

Like many of the women of this time, Hosmer was not allowed to attend art classes because working with a live model was not allowed for women. To get past this, she moved to Rome to study art and opened her own studio, paying for private sculpture lessons and taking anatomy classes.

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Hosmer’s work Mother and Child is currently on display on the 3rd floor Ball Brother’s Foundation Gallery east wing among other works done by female artists Malvina Hoffman and Bessie Potter Vonnoh.

Thom Shaw

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Thom Shaw is an African American artist that died in 2010. His work depicts issues of race, poverty, violence, and community. His wood relief prints, while seemingly pertinent to today’s societal issues, are actually over 25 years old. His images are confrontational and make the viewer really think about the issues they discuss through sharp lines and thought-provoking subject matter. Shaw studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and was one of the first African American artists to exhibit in the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Shaw also mentored minority students, many times inviting them into his studios and doing demonstrations. His work spoke of guns and drugs and police brutality on the black community. He helped start these discussions years before they became the polarizing discussions they are today. His prints show the ugliest parts of society in the most striking and beautiful of ways.

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Thom Shaw’s piece Alley Buffet was just taken down from the New Acquisitions show. If you missed it here is a preview. Be sure to keep an eye out for when it makes its next debut.

Robert Gwathmey

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Robert Gwathmey was a social realist painter born January 24th, 1903 and died September 21st, 1988 from Richmond, Virginia, and is recognized as the first white American artist to create distinguished depictions of black Americans. His works were very diverse and he tried to demonstrate a more realistic view of rural life in the American south. Gwathmey has always been known as a social activist, believing that art and social issues cannot be separated. He said, “I’m a social being and I don’t see how you can be an artist and be separate. Artists have eyes. You go home. You see things that are almost forgotten. It’s always shocking.”

Gwathmey’s style is very abstract and simple, somewhat reminiscent of Picasso and his cubist style of figures. He uses flat block colors and shapes and symbolic abstraction to convey the meaning of his work. The figures are two-dimensional and are often shown surrounded by stark backgrounds with linear details, giving them a powerful presence.

Gwathmey spent many long years creating art that focused on his political activism. He was very committed to civil rights and workers’ rights. His serigraph print titled Singing and Mending is on display on the third floor in the Ball Brother’s Foundation Gallery and is a powerful part of the museum’s collection.

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Our current exhibition, SHIFT challenges perceptions of reality through sculpture and includes a diverse array of artists. Check out the exhibition that runs through May 7.

Follow the museum on Instagram and Twitter @domaatbsu.

Jackson Pollock’s wife? You mean Lee Krasner

Katie Ronzio
Public Relations Intern

“I happened to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock and that’s a mouthful. I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.”            
 -Lee Krasner

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You may have heard of Jackson Pollock, but what about Lee Krasner? Probably not.

Lee Krasner’s giant abstract expressionist painting Right Bird Left hangs in the Ball Brothers Foundation part of the museum. It catches your eye because of the scale and color, but it receives even more attention
because she’s Jackson Pollock’s wife. Pollock is the crowned painter of abstract expressionism, a post-World War II artistic movement full of movement, uncertainty, and masculinity. Krasner, however, was so much more than a famous artist’s spouse, and her artistic identity deserves to be credited.

IMG_3450.JPGKrasner’s Right Bird Left (1965) is massive in size and scope. Characterized by spontaneous and subconscious artistic movements, intentional strokes disguised as unintentional strokes define abstract expressionism. Krasner’s painting includes bright colors with large, gestural strokes that look like they could be large flowers.

A religious Jewish woman, Krasner painted right to left, which is the direction of Hebrew script, as a way to connect to her subconscious. Because of this, Right Bird Left appears heavier on the right side.

To this day, Krasner inspires women and artists to break and challenge gender roles; she proved the world wrong when society told her women couldn’t paint. Not only could she paint just as well as any man, she maintained her artistic identity throughout the Abstract Expressionist movement, which is seen in her floral motifs compared to other popular Abstract Expressionist art that favored post-war masculinity.

For a further look into the art at the David Owsley Museum of Art, follow @domaatbsu.

Source:
Shaffer, J. (2016). TheArtStory.org. Lee Krasner. http://www.theartstory.org/artist-krasner-lee.html