Tag Archives: conservation

BMA Voices: Louis Comfort Tiffany Window of the Baptism of Christ: the other side!

Baptism of Christ at the entrance to the BMA auditorium

Manufactured by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company from a design by Frank Brangwyn.. Window: Baptism of Christ. c. 1897. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Herman and Rosa L. Cohen, and Ben and Zelda G. Cohen, BMA 1979.5. © Estate of Frank Brangwyn. Baptism of Christ at the entrance to the BMA auditorium.

Christine Downie, Objects Conservator

The monument Tiffany Window, Baptism of Christ, has graced the entrance to the BMA auditorium since 1982. When the time came to reinstall the piece in the American Wing, the question arose of which side should be shown. There is no correct side to a stained-glass window since it has viewers from both the inside and the outside of the building.

Looking at the window in its original installation, it became clear that the window had been shown from the exterior viewpoint. For instance, it might have struck the viewer that St. John was baptizing Jesus with his left hand, whereas in a church one might expect to see him pouring with his right hand. All the supporting rods were at the back of the piece, whereas it is traditional in a church for the stained-glass windows to have the supporting rods on the interior. Further investigation showed that the original cartoon by the artist Frank Brangwyn, which Tiffany used for the stained-glass design, has St. John pouring the water on Jesus’ head using his right hand. The decision was made by Dr. David Park Curry, Senior Curator and Dept. Head of Decorative Arts, American Painting & Sculpture, to show the Tiffany window from the other side in the reinstallation of the American Wing. Thus began one of the toughest installation challenges in the museum to date.

1979.5 Tiffany Window Baptism of Christ Aug 5, 2013 085 (Small)The piece had been completely restored in 1979 by a New York City stained-glass specialist and separated into four panels for easier handling. In the thirty years following, a few conservation issues developed, such as a brass supporting rod on an upper panel, which had separated from the frame at one end. Fortunately, we had the expertise of Tage Jakobsen of Artisan Glass Works, Inc., Baltimore, who carried out various metal repairs and gave advice on the display aspects of the piece. We were also fortunate to have local mount maker and sculptor Paul Daniel to help fabricate new supports for the window. Under the direction of Dave Verchomin, Installation Manager, the BMA installation team and an army of contract art handlers deinstalled the window and placed it in storage to await stabilization and cleaning.

The first piece I treated was the smallest, and located at the base of the window. You can see the exterior side and the interior side below.

Exterior viewof the glass.

Exterior view of the glass.

Interior view of the glass.

Interior view of the glass.

Much to my delight there was a painted Tiffany signature stamp on the bottom right hand corner of the interior view that had some old repairs and was covered in surface grime – further evidence that this was indeed the interior side.

March 27, 2014 006 (Small)

A painted Tiffany signature stamp on the bottom right hand corner of the interior view.

 

July 25th, 2014 005 (Small)

The BMA Registrars and Installation team carefully move the Tiffany Window.

The treatment of each panel was carried out over a few months, with art handling help from the BMA Registrars and Installation team. After extensive research, a new LED lighting system was selected by Lighting Designer Kel Millionie. After much planning and thought the BMA Installation crew and contract art handler army came together again to reinstall St. John Baptist window in November, 2014, just in time for the opening of the American Wing.

David Zimmerman adjusting the mount before the second panel is installed

David Zimmerman adjusting the mount before the second panel is installed.

Testing of the LED panels in the bottom right corner

Testing of the LED panels in the bottom right corner

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: Beautiful frame meets serious portrait.

John Hesselius. John Hanson. c. 1760. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Elizabeth Curzon Hoffman Wing, in Memory of Hanson Rawlings Duval, Jr., BMA 1967.30.37

John Hesselius. John Hanson. c. 1760. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Elizabeth Curzon Hoffman Wing, in Memory of Hanson Rawlings Duval, Jr., BMA 1967.30.37

Lauren Ross, Senior Conservation Technician 

While preparing paintings for the BMA’s newly installed American Wing, I’ve come to appreciate some decorative styles in frames in which I hadn’t previously been as interested. I have a great attraction to frames from the 19th and 20th centuries, and frames made by artists, and wood frames from the 17th century in Northern Europe. Honestly, I couldn’t choose a favorite. But the beautifully refined and carved frames for some of our late 18th American portraiture have recently caught my eye, in part because I needed to treat one.

The frame for the portrait of John Hanson by John Hesselius was made c. 1760. The frame seems to be original to the painting, fits it well, and is stylistically contemporary. Prior to installing the framed work in the gallery, both the painting and its frame needed some attention. As I focus on frames primarily, that’s what I will talk about.

The frame had not been examined until recently, and it was discovered that its surface was covered with a layer of soot and grime. There were splits near the site edge of the frame at the mitres, and numerous missing pieces of ornament and losses to the gilding.

Hanson details

Before treatment photograph of the frame.

Gilding is usually topped with shellacs and tonal coatings that over time can be difficult to clean, as the dirt becomes imbedded. It’s a careful task to undertake: gold leaf is very sensitive to many solvents and also to excessive rubbing or handling. The entire frame is carved wood that’s been gilded (more than once). There are no composition ornaments which have been sculpted separately and then added on. The workmanship in the carving of the frames of this period is exquisite, with moments of angularity. This frame is actually quite delicate. There are pierce-carved center and corner cartouche ornaments with leaves. The swept top edge of the profile consists of a gentle serpentine ribbon which is burnished and water-gilded, and terminates in c-scrolls at center ornaments. The rest of the gilding scheme is matte. The site edge of the frame exhibits a gadroon pattern, which radiates directionally from the centers of the rails, drawing the viewer’s eye into the picture plane. There are three large leaves which adorn the center ornaments as well, splayed out in symmetrical fashion. The quiet areas of the profile are adorned with gentle and delicate garlands of small leaves and flowers. Another beautiful feature is the way that the pierced carved negative voids echo the oval format of the portrait on its rectangular ground.

It is a very fine example of mid to late 18th-century American frames, which closely resemble their contemporary English counterparts. Sometimes they are called American Rococo. I have seen these frames referred to as George III (although in this case, that appellation would NOT have gone over well, situated on the portrait of John Hanson. In 1781, John Hanson of Charles County of Maryland became the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled, under the Articles of Confederation and was a great patriot. Part of Maryland’s Route 50 is even named for him.)

The treatment performed consisted of dusting, consolidation of gilding, structural repairs, loss compensations and ornament casting and replication, gesso recutting, in addition to surface cleaning and ingilding.

Hanson MT detailI finished this frame with no time to spare before it needed to be installed.

HANSON no pic

After treatment photograph of the frame.

The framed painting is now hanging in “Salon style” in the newly installed Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing, in Gallery 8, along with a large group of portraits in the BMA’s collection.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: She’s back in the building.

Henri Matisse. Large Seated Nude. Original model 1922‑1929; this cast 1930. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.436. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse. Large Seated Nude. Original model 1922‑1929; this cast 1930. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.436. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Christine Downie, Objects Conservator

One of the many interesting aspects about working at a museum are the courier trips. When an artwork is approved for loan to another institution, a BMA courier will usually accompany the piece to the host institution to make sure it is properly delivered and installed. Of course, there is much more to loaning an artwork than this. The facilities report for the loan institution has to be reviewed to make sure the object will be safe and in an appropriate environment. The object usually needs to have a special crate made so it can travel without coming to any harm. Depending on the destination a variety of methods of transport may be required with special art handling and strict procedures, and the list goes on.

I have been on numerous courier trips now and what continues to intrigue me is the way other institutions display the BMA object(s). We put restrictions on the lighting levels, relative humidity, and temperature of the galleries, as well as where the object will reside. The object cannot be handled by the public and must be handled and installed by trained art handlers wearing special gloves. Only after the host museum agrees to meet these and other requirements, can they design the exhibition as they see fit, with objects from their own collections and/or other loans. The host museum’s exhibit designer selects the colors and layout with input from the host curator. The object(s) is in completely new surroundings and can look very different.

One piece I have traveled with several times is Henri Matisse’s bronze sculpture Large Seated Nude. This piece is large and heavy. At least four strong people are required to lift it. Large Seated Nude cannot be touched by the public for fear of damaging the surface. It has been interesting to see how different host museums have protected the piece. One museum had an enormous reinforced pedestal built putting the object well out of the viewers’ reach. Two other museums produced the largest Plexiglas vitrines I have ever seen. The colors of the walls and surrounding art have varied dramatically. The following installation photos are of the Large Seated Nude in the BMA traveling exhibition Matisse: Life in Color.

Installation shot at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Oct 13th, 2013- Jan 12, 2014

Installation shot at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Oct 13th, 2013- Jan 12, 2014

Installation shot at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, Feb 23, 2014 - May 18, 2014

Installation shot at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, Feb 23, 2014 – May 18, 2014

Installation shot at the San Antonio Museum of Art, June 14, 2014 - Sept 7, 2014.

Installation shot at the San Antonio Museum of Art, June 14, 2014 – Sept 7, 2014.

Recently the Large Seated Nude was reinstalled in the Cone Wing at the BMA. Katy Rothkopf (Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture) and Karen Nielsen (Director of Installation and Exhibition Design) have taken great care to show the piece at its best. Large Seated Nude can be found in the rotunda of the building, surrounded by smaller Matisse sculptures and paintings, under the watchful eye of the BMA Security Staff.

Large Reclining Nude Nov 19, 2014

Large Seated Nude installed at the BMA Nov 19, 2014

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Reproduction, including downloading, of Henri Matisse works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

BMA Voices: A hidden Pissarro

Camille Pissarro. Strollers on a Country Road, La Varenne Saint Hilaire. 1864. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.45.221

Camille Pissarro. Strollers on a Country Road, La Varenne Saint Hilaire. 1864. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.45.221

Mary Sebera, The Stockman Family Foundation Senior Conservator

One particularly tantalizing aspect of artistic practice is the possibility that an initial painting might exist below a visible composition. In reality, this situation is relatively rare. Although artists often make changes while painting, the changes are generally minor ones such as altering the contour of a cheek or creating a more expansive vista by eliminating the branch of a tree. These changes can often be observed as an anomaly in the texture of the paint layer, one that is not related to the image.

A close examination of Strollers on a Country Road, La Varenne Saint Hilaire by Camille Pissarro revealed some very intriguing findings. Although Pissarro is generally known as a father of Impressionism who painted light, airy scenes that often relied on the primed canvas as mid-tone, his early pictures are very different in both appearance and technique. The early paintings are much more densely painted, with brush strokes and, in some instances, palette-knife work covering the canvas completely. Pissarro used this technique when creating Strollers on a Country Road, La Varenne Saint Hilaire. Over time, the sky became disrupted by a pervasive system of cracks that gap just enough to reveal a hint of color below surface level when examined with the microscope; color unrelated to the visible composition was also noticed along the edges where the painting had been lightly rubbed by past framing. The cracks, the odd coloration and the unusual thickness of the paint prompted conservators to take an x-radiograph of the painting. We know that Pissarro’s palette contained lead white, a pigment commonly used by painters in the 19th century. Lead white prevents transmission of x-rays and the subsequent exposure of film, and so areas where it is included in the paint mixture will appear white on the x-radiograph. Alternatively, paint composed of pigments with little density will appear darker; cracks that allow full transmission of the x-rays will be darker still. The x-radiograph of Strollers on a Country Road clearly shows the vertical white highlights of the slender poplars at the right center, the billowy clouds hovering above the trees, the rectangular shapes of buildings at lower right, the path that originates at lower left and winds through the center of the landscape, and the figure with the white shawl. The crackle system appears throughout as irregular dark lines. At center, it is even possible to discern the canvas pattern.

The x-radiograph of "Strollers on a Country Road, La Varenne Saint Hilaire".

The x-radiograph of “Strollers on a Country Road, La Varenne Saint Hilaire”.

If the x-radiograph is rotated to the right – so that it is horizontal – a farm yard scene appears. At left, a woman stands with hands at waist level; behind her are two very large buildings, one of which has a chimney. At the right side of the painting, the shapes of animals whose heads are bent for grazing may be seen; a tree with graceful branches is located behind them. Because they are covered by the visible painting, these features of this lower painting are a bit hazy, but enough detail may be discerned to suggest comparison with Farmyard painted a year earlier, which is in a private collection in Chicago. The traces of color along the edges and in cracks correlate with the scene. Pissarro appears to have abandoned the initial painting, covered it with a secondary priming layer and painted the visible composition.

The x-radiograph of "Strollers on a Country Road, La Varenne Saint Hilaire", rotated to the right.

The x-radiograph of “Strollers on a Country Road, La Varenne Saint Hilaire”, rotated to the right.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: A Green Frame? Uncovering the Original Artist’s frame for Thomas Hart Benton’s “Bubbles”

Thomas Hart Benton. Bubbles. 1914 1917. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of H.L. Mencken, Baltimore, BMA 1947.317. Art © Thomas Hart Benton Trust / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Thomas Hart Benton. Bubbles. 1914-1917. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of H.L. Mencken, Baltimore, BMA 1947.317. Art © T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

A Green Frame? Lauren Ross, Senior Conservation Technician Paintings & Objects, describes uncovering the original artist’s frame for Thomas Hart Benton’s Bubbles, 1914‑1917.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

BMA Voices: Re-fabricating a beloved sculpture

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981 1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman. Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version). 1981-1982. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, and Sperone Westwater Fischer Gallery, New York, BMA 1984.2. © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Kristen Hileman, Curator & Dept. Head of Contemporary Art

One of the BMA projects that has most inspired me is the conservation of Bruce Nauman’s large neon Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version), 1981-1982. And interestingly, the project didn’t involve developing an exhibition or acquiring an artwork, elements often associated with a curator’s job.

Installed on the museum’s façade for over thirty years, this bold sculpture had become a signature piece for the BMA. But those decades also led to the aging of the work’s infrastructure and technology. By 2013, it was clear that a complete overhaul was needed in order for “VVS” to be operational into the future. In consultation with Nauman’s long time studio manager Juliet Myers, BMA Objects Conservator Christine Downie worked with Jacob Fishman, a highly skilled fabricator of Nauman’s neons since the 1980s, to have the sculpture removed from the building by crane and transported to Fishman’s Chicago studio. There, a template was created from the old piece so that all the neon letters could be re-made. The existing armature was stabilized, the work was re-wired, and the old transformers and timer were replaced with up-to-date models. Unlike a more traditional art object such as an oil painting, it was not important to repair and preserve the aged components of the piece. Rather the artist preferred that his sculpture be almost entirely re-fabricated so that it could best convey his idea in the vibrant and precisely sequenced manner he had originally envisioned.

Among Nauman’s many influential accomplishments is broadening the subjects and forms that are considered part of art’s scope. Starting in the late 1960s, he created works that appeared like neon signs, flashing text and schematic images in vivid hues. In addition to provoking viewers to consider the aesthetic dimensions of a format associated with advertising, Nauman called attention to the idea that visual art can be a means for exploring language. Looking back to art made before the middle of the 20th century, it is difficult to think of an example made up entirely and exclusively of words the way Violins Violence Silence is. It is as if the introduction of written language into visual art threatened the integrity of both forms of expression. But by the 1960s, artists began to cultivate this creative “contamination” in response to a culture in which words and pictures were coupled almost everywhere else—newspapers, television, movies, billboards, comic books, etc.

In addition to affording an opportunity to research Nauman’s career, the conservation of the piece allowed me to interact with a remarkable group of experts and art lovers. I find the contemporary focus of my job rewarding not only for the connections I make to innovative artworks, but also because of the relationships I develop with those who make, care for, and appreciate art. The BMA’s Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, a membership group for people passionately interested in 20th and 21st century works, marshaled its impressive forces to raise funds for and awareness of the project. Downie and Fishman’s thoughtful technical oversight and caring stewardship of Nauman’s piece was admirable, as were the gracious contributions of the dynamic and knowledgeable Myers. As a culminating celebration, acclaimed art critic Peter Plagens and distinguished curator Paul Schimmel joined Myers for an insightful panel about Nauman’s work. The dedication of this group has insured that an important contemporary sculpture will illuminate the BMA campus for years to come.

The conservation of Violins Violence Silence (Exterior Version) in 2014 was made possible through the generous support of the Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art, Stuart and Sherry Christhilf, Suzanne F. Cohen, The Cordish Family Foundation, Inc., Nancy L. Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff, Janet E. and Edward K. Dunn, Jr., Katherine M. Hardiman and The Hardiman Family Foundation, Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker, Mary and Paul Roberts, The Thalheimer-Eurich Charitable Fund, Inc., and donors to the Illuminate campaign.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Reproduction, including downloading of ARS licensed works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

BMA Voices: The five artworks you can touch at the BMA!

Touching objects in a Museum can cause irreversible damage, even if you’re very careful. Because of this, most objects at the BMA cannot be handled. However, there are five works of art that you can touch: “Untitled” (Water) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Zinc-Magnesium Plain by Carl Andre, Scott Burton’s Rock Chair (located in the Levi Sculpture Garden), and Swimmer and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Ruhm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses, both by Franz West. In each case, the artist clearly indicated that they wished these objects to be available for people to interact with physically.

Scott Burton. Rock Chair. 1986/1987. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1988.1

Scott Burton. Rock Chair. 1986/1987. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1988.1

You might expect this to be a nightmare for museum staff. How can we protect the works of art and honor the intentions of the artists? With the five pieces at the BMA it is a challenge but not as horrifying as one might think. For example, “Untitled” (Water) by Gonzalez-Torres (below) is a beaded curtain that one has to move through in order to go from one gallery to another. Occasionally one of the strings gets tangled in a stroller or pulled down by an enthusiastic child, but people are generally very gentle with it. When one of the bead strings is broken the BMA installation team replaces the string. The staff has become adept at keeping the artwork as the artist intended.*

Felix Gonzalez Torres. "Untitled" (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation

Felix Gonzalez-Torres. “Untitled” (Water). 1995. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from Bequest of Saidie A. May, BMA 1995.73. © The Felix Gonzalez Torres Foundation

The Carl Andre sculpture Zinc-Magnesium Plain (not pictured) is of more concern. Because the piece lies on the floor and people are allowed to walk on it, there is a good chance that a sharp high heel or gravel caught in a shoe will scratch the piece. Interestingly, despite the encouragement of the artist most people walk around the work.

Franz West. Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.1. © Franz West

Franz West. Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.1. © Franz West

The Franz West sculptures Swimmer and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Ruhm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses (pictured above) have been bigger challenges in every sense of the word. They arrived on loan to the BMA in 2008 as part of the major Franz West retrospective To Build a House You Start with the Roof. West was known for encouraging human interaction with his art. These pieces were two of many artworks in the exhibition that the artist stipulated could be touched. They were also supposed to be displayed outside. It is hard to imagine an artwork being touched by thousands of people without it being scratched, stained or, worse still, broken. Swimmer and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Ruhm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses are painted sculptures made of epoxy and Fiberglass and – unlike the strings of beads – cannot easily be replaced. They also look like lots of fun to climb. During the retrospective exhibition and the traveling exhibition at LACMA there were surprisingly few incidences although some of the smaller pieces were handled a great deal and damaged. Swimmer and Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Ruhm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses received lots of shoe scuffs but survived.

Franz West. Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.1. © Franz West Franz West. Swimmer. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund; and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.16. © Franz West Both sculptures located on the BMA West lawn, 2008. You can now find them in the BMA’s Contemporary Wing.

Franz West. Violetta. To the song of Gerhard Rühm: I like to rest on aquatic corpses. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.1. © Franz West
Franz West. Swimmer. 2005. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Fanny B. Thalheimer Memorial Fund; and Frederick R. Weisman Contemporary Art Acquisitions Endowment, BMA 2008.16. © Franz West
Both sculptures located on the BMA West lawn, 2008. You can now find them in the BMA’s Contemporary Wing.

When the works of art arrived back at the BMA they were again displayed out on the lawn. Ironically it was not the ice, snow, animals or people that affected the pieces the most – it was the ultra violet rays from the sun. Despite UV inhibitors, the painted surface faded within a year. While the artist was apparently undisturbed by the signs of human interaction with his sculptures, he did not want uneven colors on the painted surfaces.

Detail of the fading paint on Swimmer, February 2009.

Detail of the fading paint on Swimmer, February 2009.

When the time for the reinstallation of the Contemporary Wing – where the works are now located – in 2012 it was decided by Contemporary curator Kristen Hileman and the Conservation Department to have the pieces repainted with input from Franz West. It was also decided to change to a more durable paint. The color and paint were approved by Franz West in March 2012. The treatment was carefully carried out by Chris Lidrbauch and Chick Bills of Silverback Art Services.

Please come to the BMA, and when you need to rest, feel free to lounge on Swimmer or Violetta and observe – from a safe distance – the surrounding fragile art.

Franz West on YouTube
View the installation of The Ego and the Id and other BMA videos on the Museum’s YouTube page.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

*Minor change to the wording of this paragraph for accuracy.

BMA Voices: Why is the BMA stockpiling fluorescent lamps?

Dan Flavin. Untitled (To Barnett Newman for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"). 1993 1994. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 1993.210. © Stephen Flavin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Dan Flavin. Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”). 1993-1994. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Caplan Family Contemporary Art Fund, and Collectors Circle Fund, BMA 1993.210. © Stephen Flavin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Angie Elliott, Associate Objects Conservator

The Museum has a stockpile of fluorescent lamps (bulbs) that are so important that we keep them stored away in a vault. While I used to think of cubicle-laden offices and big box stores when I thought of fluorescent lighting, now my mind goes to the challenges of preserving contemporary art.

Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”), 1993-1994, is the reason we have such an important collection of lighting supplies. His installation of red, yellow, and blue fluorescent lamps lights up a corner in the back of the Contemporary Wing. Using both long and short lamps, the work forms a column that stretches 24 feet from the second floor through the ceiling to the third floor. The light reaches beyond the physical lamps and ballasts and transforms the surrounding space and architecture. I love that I can walk by the museum at night and catch glimpses of this light bouncing from this rear corner through the large glass windows in the front of the Contemporary Wing.

Flavin uses an everyday and familiar technology in an unfamiliar way, but what happens when the everyday and familiar are no longer that? Lighting technology is rapidly changing to keep up with new environmental and energy regulations. If you’ve bought a light bulb in the past few years, you’ve noticed that how quickly those changes are happening. We’ve gone from incandescent to compact fluorescents in just a few years with LEDs quickly coming on the scene. The fluorescent lamp as we know it will likely disappear in the future… so how does that affect Dan Flavin’s art?

Museums and collectors have already faced challenges as lamp colors have varied over time. Colors have shifted as different manufacturers take on what a red, yellow, or blue should be. Dan Flavin’s Estate has taken an active role in dealing with the issues of aging lamps and technology. Ten years ago, we joined with other museums and collectors to have our lamps specially produced. Never fear – our Flavin should remain unchanged for years to come, but we do have challenges to face in the coming decades.

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BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Reproduction, including downloading of ARS licensed works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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BMA Voices: What is within this “Power Figure (Nkishi)”?

Artist Unidentified. Tetela region (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Power Figure (Nkishi). 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Asif Shaikh, McLean, Virginia, BMA 2013.365.

This Nkishi (plural: Mankishi) or Power Figure, from the Tetela region, now located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is a recent addition to the BMA’s collection. This Nkishi would have been used by a diviner to connect to spirits in order to solve clients’ problems. When in use, this Nkishi was considered too powerful to safely touch with your bare hands, so it is accompanied by two sticks that were hooked onto the main body of the figure and used to carry it, protecting the handler from harm.

The Tetela Nkishi joins three other, very fine power figures (BMA 1954.145.65-67) in the BMA’s African Art collection. These Minkisi (singular: Nkisi, which has the same meaning as the Tetela Nkishi) are from the Kongo region of the DRC and will be featured in the reinstallation of the BMA’s African galleries, opening April 26, 2015. The spirits residing within the Kongo Minkisi were invoked when individuals sought a solution to a problem and needed to swear an oath as to their sincerity. One of the Minkisi (1954.145.66) bares the evidence that it was invoked many times—by driving a nail into its surface. However, this was not the only way to open communications—the BMA Nkisi in the form of a refined female (1954.145.65) would have been considered too beautiful to mar. Although the Tetela region has not been studied as much as the Kongo, the BMA’s Nkishi was probably used in a similar fashion.

The Nkishi and the Minkisi should all contain a hollow chamber that would have been filled with items to imbue the figures with their significance. The chamber in the Tetela figure should take the form of a channel from the crown of its head to its anus. To verify this, the BMA’s Conservation Department will be taking an x-ray of the Nkishi in the near future. Special days are scheduled, when a portable x-ray machine is set up in the Museum to take images of works of art. Below, you can see x-rays, taken three years ago, of the Kongo Nkisi. Different settings on the x-ray machine reveal different information. In these images, the Nikisi’s mirrored abdomen and eyes and her metal earrings appear the lightest. In the x-ray taken from the figure’s side, nothing glows white within her abdomen. This does not indicate that the hollow chamber in this figure is empty. Rather, it tells us that there is nothing of the same density as metal in the chamber—there could still be organic materials, such as wood or earth in there. Additional images at different settings could reveal a clearer image of what is in this figure. We hope to gather similar information about the Tetela Nkishi through x-ray in the near future.

1954.145.65_x-ray_front

X-ray taken from the front. Artist Unidentified. Kongo region (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Power Figure (Nkisi). Early 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Alan Wurtzburger, BMA 1954.145.65

1954.145.65_x-ray_side

X-ray taken from the side. Artist Unidentified. Kongo region (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Power Figure (Nkisi). Early 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Alan Wurtzburger, BMA 1954.145.65

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: Examining Yayoi Kusama’s “No. Green. No. I.”, 1961.

Yayoi Kusama. No. Green. No. I. 1961. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Edith Ferry Hooper Bequest Fund, BMA 1996.11. © Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama. No. Green. No. I. 1961. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Edith Ferry Hooper Bequest Fund, BMA 1996.11. © Yayoi Kusama

Mary Sebera, The Stockman Family Foundation Senior Conservator, speaks about Yayoi Kusama’s No. Green. No. I., 1961.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.