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Wednesday, May 31 • 9:30am - 10:00am
(Paintings) Mapping a way forward: Bringing an artwork back from self-destruction

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In 2009 The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) purchased the sculpture titled Mapa estelar en árbol by contemporary Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. While the work was described as resurrecting an old-Master technique, the application of the historic materials was anything but. In construction the work resembles a panel painting, but that the panel is a 30-40 cm thick cross-section of a mango tree trunk almost 70 cm in diameter and sits on the floor as a sculpture for viewers to walk around. Another deviation from panel painting is that instead of decorating the tangential surface of the wood, it is the end grain that bears the design. The artwork comprises wood, with canvas, gesso and graphite incised with a geometrical sgraffito design on the front and a waxy coating on the back. However, the presence of the canvas was omitted from any description and materials listing from the artist and gallery. Another discrepancy in the materials included the white ground, which was described on different occasions by the curator, artist, and gallery as gesso, dead plaster (possibly slaked lime), and calcium sulfate (plaster) and animal glue. Upon arrival to the museum just months after its premiere showing in Mexico City, several areas of fine cracking and the beginnings of delamination were already noted on the painted surface. The sculpture was placed in storage at a stable 50% RH and upon examination a year later the surface displayed a significant change in appearance. The canvas was buckling with apparent shrinkage of the wood and large areas of gesso were being pushed off the surface with the cracking exponentially increased. A horror to any collection steward, the work was no longer exhibitable. The gallery was notified and it was decided that the piece should be sent back to Mexico City for examination and for a discussion with the artist. Negotiations between the CMA, gallery, artist, and fabricator (also a conservator) led to a decision that the conservator/fabricator in Mexico City would attempt restoration knowing that CMA paintings and objects conservators deemed the work beyond conservation and that any intervention was going to be visible and show previous damage. The CMA reserved the right to reject the restored work based on appearance and would not accept the work remade in the same manner as the original. The fabricator's effort was not successful and the design elements were removed. An alternative approach to remaking the work was presented by CMA conservators prior to the treatment campaign that could potentially maintain the desired appearance but would diverge from the "traditional” materials chosen by the artist. The conservation efforts that followed were a result of several rounds of material testing and treatment discussions and collaborations with the gallery, artist, and fabricator. An overview of the testing process, the conservation intervention, level of collaboration and involvement, and ramifications to the artist's intent will be discussed.

avatar for Per Knutås-[PA]

Per Knutås-[PA]

Chief Conservator, Cleveland Museum of Art
Per Knutås is the Eric and Jane Nord Chief Conservator at the Cleveland Museum of Art where he oversees a department of 15 conservators and conservation technicians. He graduated from The School of Conservation at the Royal Danish Academy of Art, in Copenhagen, Denmark with a focus... Read More →

avatar for Samantha Springer

Samantha Springer

Conservator, Portland Art Museum
Samantha Springer relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2015 to take the position of Conservator at the Portland Art Museum. While Samantha remains a generalist due to her responsibility for care of a broad collection, she has particular interest in preventive conservation, sustainability... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 9:30am - 10:00am CDT
Regency C Ballroom Level, West Tower