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Wednesday, May 31 • 2:05pm - 2:30pm
(Unique Objects/Unique Treatment) The 40 year conservation story of Bruce Conner’s CHILD

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Bruce Conner's CHILD was created in 1959 as a response to the sentencing of death-row inmate Caryl Chessman who had been incarcerated for the kidnapping and sexual molestation of a woman in Los Angeles. Conner responded to this high-profile capital punishment case and his visceral repulsion to it by creating a frightening sculpture of a deformed corpse-like child. Made from casting wax, the figure appears strapped to a wooden highchair with belt and twine, the head tilted backwards with a gaping or screaming mouth, and body veiled in torn and stretched nylon stockings. The disturbing and emotionally charged imagery of CHILD served as a lightning rod upon its initial exhibition at the De Young Museum in 1959-1960. CHILD was acquired by MoMA in 1970, and while the sculpture was lent to three venues since its acquisition it has never been on view at MoMA nor included in a Conner retrospective until 2016. This paper will overview three main aspects of the project: the history of CHILD and its condition at MoMA, the treatment process, and the documentation and analysis implemented to record the treatment and monitor its current and future condition. In 2015 MoMA hosted a group of scholars and conservators to review CHILD's history and come to a consensus on if and to what extent a conservation effort was possible or appropriate. Since its creation in 1960 the wax figure had taken on an increasingly slumped position due to a gradual delamination along the original tacked joins. The nylons had pulled away from the sculpture during an earlier restoration attempt in 2000 and hung tenuously from the chair in small bundles. CHILD's condition in 2015 was ultimately deemed unexhibitable and a treatment attempt was decided upon. The goal of the treatment of CHILD was to return the figure and the nylon stockings as close as possible to their 1960 orientation and, once in place, stabilize the sculpture so that it could withstand exhibition and travel in the present and future. We will review our treatment processes: removing sections of CHILD from its original chair, the production of a mock chair, stabilization and armature building of the wax components, and replacement of small sections of missing nylons. The overall treatment design was formulated in real time in response to the condition of the wax and trial and error of various armature designs. Rebuilding the wax figure was iterative and required the use of an armature material that could be reworked. We used a thermoplastic polyester resin, polycaprolactone, embedded in a variety of mesh and scrim materials to construct the armature. And finally this paper will review the documentation procedures we implemented to visualize the treatment including a GoPro timelapse, x-radiography, and photogrammetry. Material analyses of the treatment materials and wax were also performed by the MoMA science conservation department. These sets of information will also be used to monitor CHILD's condition and stability as it moves to other venues in the exhibition.

avatar for Megan Randall

Megan Randall

Conservation Fellow, Museum of Modern Art
Megan Randall is an Assistant Projects Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art. She completed her conservation training at the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts. Megan spent her internship year at the Museum of Modern Art (2014-2015). She has also completed internships... Read More →

avatar for Roger Griffith

Roger Griffith

Associate Conservator, Museum of Modern Art
Roger Griffith is an Associate Sculpture Conservator at The Museum of Modern Art since 1998. He received his MA from the Royal College of Art/ Victoria & Albert Museum London England in 1997. Prior to MoMA he was an inter/fellow at the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 2:05pm - 2:30pm CDT
Crystal Ballroom B Lobby Level, West Tower