Showing posts with label art conservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art conservation. Show all posts

September 12, 2017

Repatriation: United States will return Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq in 2018.

Books and documents from the Iraqi Jewish Archive prior to conservation

On May 6, 2003, in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat headquarters, American soldiers from MET (Mobile Exploitation Team) Alpha, led by now-retired Chief Warrant Officer Richard “Monty” Gonzales, found thousands of Jewish communal and religious books in Arabic and Hebrew that appeared to record the life of Iraq's Jewish community  which flourished for over 2,500 years in the region of Babylonia. Unfortunately, the cache of historic items was discovered floating in hip-deep wastewater in the recently-liberated, bomb-damaged headquarters.

Former Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales in waist-deep
sewage water in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s
Mukhabarat headquarters in Baghdad. Image Credit: Richard Gonzales

For emergency assistance in preserving the trove of books, manuscripts and documents, some dating from the mid-sixteenth to late twentieth century, Doris Hamburg, then Director of Preservation Programs at the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preservation program was contacted by the Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad.



Hamburg and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Chief of the Document Conservation Laboratory, in cooperation with the Iraqi officials, recommended freezing the documents as soon as possible as heat and humidity would produce a conservator's worst enemy: mold.  Freezing as a short-term solution is a common method which can quickly stabilize mold infestations until such time as an appropriate treatment to dry out materials can be undertaken.  The ability to freeze documents buys conservators time, allowing fragile material to be preserved until the documents can be sorted with care and worked on in a priority-centric  and carefully informed pace. 

Heeding NARA's advice, those on the ground moved the waterlogged damaged, and by now moldy documents into 27 large steel trunks.  In turn, these 2,700 books and thousands of Jewish paper documents were placed in a requisitioned freezer truck for storage until August 17, 2003 when a deal was struck between NARA and Iraq’s interim government.    

Citing Iraq's Antiquities Law No. 55, Dr Jaber Khalil Ibrahim, Chairman of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage at the Iraqi Ministry of Culture agreed to send the documents to the United States on a temporary basis, to allow NARA to undertake emergency conservation, on the condition that the material would be returned to Iraq within two years.

As their part of the agreement, NARA agreed to cover overhead costs for administrative functions, lab use, storage and utilities.  The US Military provided the security and transport of the archive from Baghdad to the United States where conservation treatment would occur. 

The trunks were brought to BMS Catastrophe (BMS CAT), a freeze drying company in Ft. Worth Texas utilized by NARA which deals with catastrophic damage and where salvage operations on the documents would start in earnest. Cleaning the documents of mold would be a complicated process, as those working with the materials would be required to wear protective suits for their own health and safety. 

Successful recovery of water-damaged archival materials is usually done in one of two ways: evaporation or sublimation, depending on the state of the water before it passes to vapor and escapes from the materials being conserved.  Water in the wet state can evaporate via air drying but this is not always the optimal method of choice. When freeze dried in controlled atmospheric conditions, water in its solid state, ice, will sublimate and can then be removed from the materials while still in its gaseous phase, without passing through the liquid phase. 

Freeze drying in a vacuum chamber was the conservation method of choice for the Iraqi Jewish Archive given the large numbers of waterlogged and damaged books, some of which had water-sensitive inks and coated paper.  It also limited the problems of bleeding and tidelines on the materials and helps to minimize document shrinkage and brittleness. Ultimately, vacuum freeze drying the texts allowed mold, mud, dirt, and dust to be vacuumed from the surface of the material in a controlled manner, so that conservators could focus their attention on reparations of the archive's contents, prioritizing which objects needed treatment first.  

A lengthy process, the archive's preservation at times has been hampered by funding concerns. As the Iraqi Jewish Archive is not a U.S. govern­ment collection, the United States National Archives and Records Administration funds could not be used for the conservation project.  Outside funding, provided by private donors, foundations or indirectly via other government agencies with authority was needed.

Many philanthropic Jewish organizations balked at funding the conservation and cataloguing initiative knowing that it was highly likely that the collection would ultimately be returned to Baghdad and not remain in the United States or Israel. 

In late 2005, $98,000 was allocated via the National Endowment to the the Center for Jewish History who facilitated the second phase of the preservation project.  To establish preservation priorities for Phase II Susan Duhl and conservation technician were contracted to work under the direction of the National Archives to assess and document the condition of the collection. 

Focusing on proper storage, the pair inventoried the material and took digital photographs used to establish a preliminary digital archive and catalogue, which, with language expertise, could then help set priorities as to what documents were in the collection as well as what actually should be preserved first. 

Experts knowledgeable in Levant and Jewish history met in May 2010 and offered recommendations regarding priorities for preservation, access, and to discuss the potential of an online digital archive and exhi­bitions.

In 2011 the US Department of State allocated an additional 2.97 million for was was to be the final phase of the preservation project.  This funding specified that the project was to be completed in 2014, with the objects to be repatriated June 2014. 

On May 14, 2014, Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, announced that the Iraqi government had authorized an extension period in which the archive could remain in the United States for a while longer, with key pieces displayed on exhibition.

The four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. is set to expire in September 2018. 

Call it cultural preservation, cultural imperialism, or call it stealing. 

Since the initial transfer of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to the United States, the question of its eventual repatriation to Iraq has been a source of continual contention.  Some argue that Iraq viciously persecuted its Jews and given their displacement, the archive should never be repatriated, belonging instead to the country's displaced jews. 

Others argue that the US is ethically bound to repatriate as they singularly promised the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad they would do so. 

Speaking to some individuals in Iraq, some feel strongly that the US government intervened solely because of the Jewish nature of the damaged objects.  They resent the special attention this archive received while other important archival documents and rare books belonging to the Iraq National Library and Archive, also impacted by the same type of wastewater flooding, were neglected. [NB the archival materials removed from the INLA were far more extensive than the Jewish documents held by the Mukhabarat and didn't fair as well with regards to preservation]. 

Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project has said that while it appears that the US government is now of a mind to finally return these artifacts to Iraq in 2018, there will be others in clear opposition to that repatriation. 

He writes: 


Sigal Samuel, a self described Iraqi Jew, argues that the archive should go home. 

In a 2014 article in favor of the their return she stated:


On the argument of accessibility by Jewish readers when the artifacts go home Samuel argued:

"I understand that returning the archive to Iraq would make it difficult or impossible for most Jews — particularly Israelis — to safely access it. But even though I myself am saddled with an Israeli name and citizenship, I still don’t think this is an argument for keeping the archive in the U.S. I think it’s an argument for digitization — a process that’s already underway. Or it’s an argument for setting up loans, which would allow the exhibit to be housed permanently in Iraq but travel every few years to this or that Jewish population center.

In digital-age America, we take it for granted that everything we love should be at our fingertips. But relinquishing that luxury sometimes comes with distinct advantages. When it comes to returning this trove to Iraq, the advantages are clear: There, it will serve a vital educational purpose, both for world Jewry and for non-Jewish Iraq."

In a statement to the Jewish Telegraph Service this week, State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said the four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. will expire in September 2018, as will funding for maintaining and transporting the contents of the archive. Outside of a new agreement being drawn up and signed between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government it looks like the archive is finally going to be repatriated.

Portions of the archive, featuring 23 recovered items and a “behind the scenes” video of the painstaking preservation process will be on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland from October 15, 2017 until January 15, 2018.

Highlights include:

For more details please see:
https://www.ija.archives.gov/
https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2013/fall-winter/ija.pdf

November 15, 2016

Has a Toronto art historian uncovered a treasure trove of Van Gogh sketches? Probably not

Self Portrait with Straw Hat, July or August 1888, Arles
Attributed to Vincent Van Gogh  © Éditions du Seuil
Yesterday, at a much talked about media event at the Academy of Architecture in Paris, Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov, a professor emerita in art history at the University of Toronto presented the findings of her new book, Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook.  The book contains a grouping of sixty-five previously unknown sketches, primarily drawn using a reed pen with brown ink, which the historian asserts is a long-lost sketchbook, made up of drawings done by the artist while he lived in the south of France.  

Historically, there are four confirmed Van Gogh sketchbooks which encompass 150 drawings from the artist's stays in Antwerp, Nuenen, Paris and Auvers-sur-Oise. All four of the previously known sketchbooks are part of the Van Gogh Museum collection in Amsterdam and are meticulously stored in their prints and drawings archive, away from public view due to their sensitivity to light. 

These recognized sketchbooks contain rudimentary sketches and figure studies, with only a few more detailed and elaborate compositions. One of these, a sketchbook with a marbled inside cover, contains some of the artist's first known drawings of people and places. This sketchbook captures the rural life of the artist's stay in Nuenen. 


This pocket-sized sketchbook contains Van Gogh's sketch of the church in Nuenen. This not only dates the sketchbook, but it helps to authenticate the oil on canvas painting he later completed for his mother, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen which was stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in 2002 and then recovered 14 years later in Italy

The newly discovered  40.5 by 26 centimeters sketchbook presented in Paris this month contains among other drawings, a self-portrait as well as portraits of bar-owners Marie and Joseph Ginoux, the artist Paul Gauguin, and a series of landscapes and still lifes.  There are also three sketches of the Yellow House on Place Lamartine in Arles.  Van Gogh rented four rooms in the now famous house on May 1, 1888. 

But the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is not convinced of the sketchbook's authenticity.  On the basis of 56 high-quality photographs sent to the museum for consultation in 2008 and 2012, their experts gave an early opinion on its sketchbook's authenticity – an opinion omitted in this recent publication, most likely at the behest of the owners of the would-be Van Gogh album.

Citing the type of ink represented in the drawings, (Van Gogh used purple and black ink) the state of the paper and deviations in the technical skills and characteristic style of the famous artist's other sketchbooks, experts at the museum do not believe that these drawings are the authentic work of Vincent Van Gogh.  In a harsh rebuttal they stated that "the drawing style of the maker of the drawings in The Lost Arles Sketchbook is, in the opinion of our experts, monotonous, clumsy, and spiritless."

They also voiced serious concerns about the sketch book's provenance. 

The museum's public statement on the purported sketchbook can be read in its entirety here.

But Welsh-Ovcharov stands by her theory that the work is not a fake and has stated "Van Gogh experimented here with the rhythm of the lines and just distribution. Remember: these works are made without [a] perspective frame. And in a very short time. The drawings are not intended as finished compositions. Rather, they are doodles. "

Discovering a new sketchbook, flush with so many previously unknown drawings, 126 years after the artist's death would be highly unusual, but the choice of ink is also an anomaly. 

When Van Gogh sketched, he often favored pen-and-ink, using a quill, steel, or reed pen instead of black chalk, charcoal or pencils.  One of the inks he preferred was crystal violet (CV), a synthetic dye that was first made in 1883, not sepia shellac, as was used in this newly discovered sketchbook. 

Brightly-coloured CV triphenylmethane ink was inexpensive to manufacture and often replaced natural dye inks in works of art during Van Gogh's lifetime.  But the cheap ink came at a high price, one that proved devastating to the Van Gogh's authenticated sketches.  Crystal violet (CV) ink is very UV light sensitive. 

Photodegradation to Vincent's drawings, sketched using the ink, have discolored rapidly.  Some of the artist's drawings using the ink have turned various shades of brown and others have faded almost entirely.  This sorrowful reality can be seen in the contrasting photographs of one of Van Gogh's drawings below.

Montmajour (May/June 1888), drawing with purple ink,
Van Gogh Museum (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
Left– 1928 photograph; Right –  2001 photograph
Time being a cruel master, Van Gogh's CV ink sketches have proven to be so sensitive to ultraviolet light that many of them are virtually unrecognizable.  To protect what remains, the museum's curators at the Van Gogh Museum have stored the bulk of the artist's ink drawings, his letters, and the four authenticated sketchbooks in the museum's archives, away from harmful UV light and of necessity, away from public view.  

Analyzing these historic photographs, we can see an eighty-year time lapse of the ink doing its damage.  The black and white photograph above and to the left is from Jacob Baart de la Faille’s 1928 premier catalogue raisonné des œuvres de Vincent van Gogh. The color photo above and to the right is from the Van Gogh archive. The image today is sadly almost unrecognizable and shows in detail just how severely the artist's purple ink drawing has faded, now just a former brown shadow of its former self.

Curiously, the images in the newly discovered sketchbook, reproduced in this YouTube video, remain crisp and vibrant, now matter how clumsily they were executed.  


By comparison, photographs of Van Gogh's drawings inside his four sketchbooks in the Van Gogh collection show that the artist's own drawings have not fared near as well.  Each of them has been preserved in the following digital collection albums:





Comparing the two, not as a professional curator, which I am not, but as a curious writer, I would ask Professor Welsh-Ovcharov why she thinks that the famous painter would have stopped using purple or black ink, switching to seppia shallac ink in this newly-found sketchbook, only to then revert back to CV ink later?  

I would also ask her why the sketches in the four Van Gogh Museum sketchbooks represent more rudimentary imagery than the more elaborate "doodles" she feels were drawn by Van Gogh this long lost album.

By: Lynda Albertson










 true then it would be the fifth known intact sketchbook Vincent van Gogh. The four previous examples date  and were previously published as a facsimile edition. 

January 14, 2014

Postcard from Paris: Crowds gather to view last day of Kahlo-Rivera exhibit at Musée de l'Orangerie

The Golden Sphere, Jardin des Tuileries
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

PARIS - I had not anticipated that while I idly photographed James Lee Byars' "Golden Sphere" (1992-2012) in the center of the fountain of the Jardin des Tuileries that dozens of visitors were lining up for the last day of the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit, Art in Fusion, at the Musée de l'Orangerie.

After 45 minutes standing outside in the cold that must be ignored (an ambulance arrived to pick up a woman who had collapsed near the front of the line), hanging up my winter coat, and subtly protecting my place in the ticket line from encroachers, the cashier told me that she had run out of six-day Paris Museum Passes. The cost of a two day and a four day pass -- her available inventory -- would cost a total of 98 euros, almost 50 percent more. I deliberately held up the line, waiting for her to make an offer, she didn't, and so, just so I could get her response for you, I made the suggestion: "You could sell me the two-day and the four-day pass for the same price since I waited to purchase the six-day pass." And her response: "I am not a manager, I cannot make that decision."
Long line waiting for museum to open
I wasn't in California where I would have demanded to speak to her supervisor, so I just let it go -- we were, after all, in Paris. Next time I plan to speak very loudly in my awkward French and see if the customer service improves.

The Kahlo-Rivera exhibit told the story of the couple's dramatic and estranged relationship, showed the influence Spain and France had on his work, how physical and emotional pain influenced hers. In 1939, Kahlo and Rivera visited Paris:
Frida goes to Paris where she takes part in the "Mexique" exhibition, organised by Breton and Duchamp at the Galerie REnou & Colle. she meets a number of Surrealist painters, as well as Picasso, but is very disappointed with Parisian intellectual circles. At the end of the year, she and Diego are divorced. [From the exhibit]
The exhibit had detailed how he had slept with her sister, and she had suffered through numerous miscarriages. Right by this plaque was a "Portrait de Frida Kahlo dormant" (1939) by photographer and painter Dora Maar (1907-1997), Picasso's former muse and lover, who had suffered depression when the relationship with Pablo ended.

I cleansed my artistic palate with a visit to Monet's Water Lilies (a sign clearly stated no phones or cameras) under natural sunlight. The museum's audio guide described the efforts to protect Monet's masterpiece:


When the Water Lilies were inaugurated in 1927, Impressionism was no longer fashionable and the public did not flock to see Monet's masterpiece. Then, after years of neglect, these rooms were the most damaged by shells during the liberation of Paris. Their renovation in the 1960s modified the original design, notably doing away with the anteroom and replacing it with a staircase. But the work undertaken between 2000 and 2006 restored them to their original splendor and they are now as Monet originally imagined them.

July 1, 2013

Monday, July 01, 2013 - , No comments

Ann Shaftel on "The art and craft of preserving art"

Canadian conservator Ann Shaftel has written on "The art and craft of preserving art", especially the maintenance of sacred textiles. Strong cleaning chemicals and modern lighting affect religious cloths and change the way the materials are cared for, Ms. Shaftel points out in the May-June 2013 for Tashi Delek:

For centuries, old treasures in monasteries and private homes have been cared for by resident nuns and monks. The longevity of these precious treasures is determined every day as the caretakers handle, clean and display these treasures on Buddhist shrines. Every Bhutanese home has an altar with thangkas and statues. Some shops and businesses also have an area with a thangka and offerings. Kiras, ghos (Bhutanese dress for me) and other everyday sacred family treasures that are woven into the fabric of daily life in Bhutan hold profound importance for the continuity of traditional Bhutanese culture. Yet the task of caring for them can baffle most. 
So there is robust logic in training nun, monks and private individuals in the care of these objects in their homes, nunneries and monasteries to enable them to gain basic preservation know-how. Though it is necessary to have some scientific understanding of materials and their behaviour, it can be combined with the dedication of caretakers and traditional rspect and methods to help preserve the treasures of Bhutan.

June 17, 2013

Amsterdam Diary: "Van Gogh at Work" rebukes myth of solitary impulsive genius with the story of a disciplined artist influenced by his peers

Crowd at Van Gogh's Potato Eaters Sunday afternoon
AMSTERDAM, Sunday - This weekend the Van Gogh Museum attracted the same high-density crowd through its doors as the nearby Rijksmuseum. After a nine-month closure, the museum re-opened with "Van Gogh at Work", an educational exhibit focusing on Vincent Van Gogh's disciplined training to be a painter, independently studying drawing and color. It's a theme once confined to the subterranean level of the VGM in the exhibit on Vincent's drawings, but is now extended throughout four levels of gallery space.

Early paintings at the Van Gogh Museum differ in style (darker in color and theme) from those works in museums ( in California or Paris lighter more popular works later sold in the secondary market), serving as a reminder that Vincent sold only one painting and traded a few others; his family donated a huge collection which makes up the majority of the Van Gogh Museum's collection.

"Van Gogh at Work" puts the evolving styles of the artist into context as Vincent learned how to use materials and developed his style, evolving from an academic painter to a modern artist beginning at the age of 27:
In the 19th century, artists normally learned their trade by taking lessons at an academy or in a well-known artist's studio. They were taught by the traditional method, drawing from plaster copies of ancient sculptures and from nude models. Van Gogh, too, took lessons of this kind, although never for very long: no more than eight months in total. In 1880 he studied at the academy in Brussels and in 1881 in Anton Mauve's studio in the Hague; in 1885 at the academy in Antwerp, and in 1886 in the atelier of the painter Fernand Carmon in Paris. In the end, Van Gogh learned his craft mainly by spending countless hours at home copying drawings and paintings. He chose subjects of all kinds, from plaster models of the kind used at the art academy to a worn-out pair of shoes.
The exhibit includes paintings of a 'worn-out pair of shoes', black chalk drawings of a seated girl and another of a seated male nude, and his pencil drawing of a standing nude woman.

As a struggling artist, Vincent returned to live with his parents and worked in a shed behind the parsonage.
Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863),
Apollo Slays Python, is a preliminary
study for his painting ceiling at the Louvre.
In Nuenen, Van Gogh read books about colour theory. He learned about complementary colours (red and green, yellow and purple, blue and organge), which contrast and thereby heighten each other's effect. Yet this did not lead him to use brighter colours right away. Instead, he mixed complementary colours into his dark earth tones. It was only later, in Paris, that he saw paintings with powerful colour effects and gradually began to appreciate the potential of colour. Eugène Delacroix became his chief model. Other major influences included Neo-Impressionists such as Seurat and Signac. They used dots and short brushstrokes to set up contrasts between complementary colours, creating bright, colourful paintings. Van Gogh incorporated these diverse influences into his own personal style. This opened the way to the expressive works for which his is well known, in which colour plays the leading role.
In addition to the famous two-month living arrangement with Paul Gauguin in Arles (for which occasion he painted the series of sunflower pictures), Vincent had other relationships with painters, including Emile Bernard (1868-1941). Vincent asked Gauguin and Bernard for their self-portraits in a trade, and those paintings are on display (with each of them showing the other in the background).

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Les Misérables
 (Self-portrait with portrait of Bernard)



Repeatedly in the exhibit, conservators site examples of paint analysis, such as the 'grains of sand and bits of grass and leaves' 'discovered in the paint layers of some of his works' that indicate the artist worked outside on some canvases (Van Gogh at Work Highlights, page 6). Research showed that Vincent re-used materials -- x-ray photographs and pigment analysis showed that the artist painted over pictures to save money on purchasing new canvases (as it was he often felt guilty for purchasing supplies on the limited funds his brother Theo sent him, according to Vincent's letters).

Metal Detectors at the VGM


The Van Gogh Museum uses metal detectors to screen visitors (the Rijksmuseum does not); all restrooms are located in the basement of the four-story building (the Rijksmuseums places toilettes in pairs on each floor); and the cafeteria and large seating area accommodates crowds quickly (lunch at the cafe at the Rijksmuseum can take an hour). But both museums give the option for female security guards to wear scarves instead of ties (just saying).

Discussion of security can be summed up by a comment from another security museum official:
As you may know, we never speak about our security in public. But in general, I can tell you that one of the main challenges for every museum is to create the optimum balance between protecting the collection and offering the best hospitality for all visitors.
And with free Wi-Fi, the Van Gogh Museum also encourages visitors to promote the institute through social media.

The exhibit ended with 'probably' the last known painting by Vincent Van Gogh, Tree Roots, 1890: "He did not complete it: the top is almost finished, but the lower half had not yet been worked out in detail."

Vincent Van Gogh, Tree Roots, 1890
The exhibit is a result of the research project 'Van Gogh's Studio Practice', initiated in 2005 by the Van Gogh Museum, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and Shell Netherlands. A symposium on the subject is scheduled for June 24-26, 2013.

January 25, 2013

Portrait of a Museum Robbery: The 1998 Theft of Tissot's "Still on Top" from the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki

At ten minutes past 11 o'clock in the morning on Sunday, August 9th, 1998, a man with a shotgun entered the Auckland Art Gallery, threatened nearby visitors, then went directly to one of the collections most valuable paintings, James Tissot's "Still on Top" (c 1873).  The thief ripped the painting from the wall, smashed its glass into the painting, and used a crowbar to pry the canvas out of its frame.  He then ran outside the gallery into a nearby park and escaped on a motorcycle.  The robbery took less than four minutes.

Here in this YouTube video, Auckland Art Gallery - Restoring Tissot, is surveillance footage of the crime, the story of the damaged painting recovery nine days later, and the long process of restoration for public display.

James Tissot's "Still on Top"
Many of the original newspaper stories published in The New Zealand Herald can be ordered via email through the Auckland City Council Library here.

The man arrested eight days later had demanded a ransom of more than $260,000 from the Auckland Art Gallery and hidden the damaged work underneath a bed.  One year later, Anthony Sannd was found guilty and sentenced to nearly 17 years in jail, including charges related to two armed robberies of a security van and a bank branch.

The New Zealand art museum accepted $500,000 for the loss in value for the damaged Tissot painting and was able to repair the work and return it for public display three years later.

On February 1, 2005, the thief, Anthony Sannd (also known as Ricardo Genovese), escaped from a prison farm and eluded recapture for almost four weeks (during which time he was alleged to have stolen a BMW and burgled a home).  Two more years was added to his sentence.  Sannd was released from jail in March 2012.  Then Sannd filed a claim that the government owed him $100,000 for keeping him in jail six months longer than he had been sentenced.

November 5, 2012

MoMA Director Glenn Lowry's Responds to Hurricane Sandy; NYC museum works with American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team

Yesterday Glenn D. Lowry, director of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, sent an email letter to the art institution's "members and friends" expressing concern for those people affected by Hurricane Sandy:
Our foremost concern has been for our neighbors and friends who have suffered so much hardship and damage.  A MoMA curator and the director of MoMAPS1 put out a call for volunteers from the art community and together they filled a bus with donated supplies and headed to one of the many areas in need of help today.  This is but a small part of the relief effort, but we were humbled by the incredible commitment of the volunteers.  Our staff will continue to play a role in the recovery, and we invite those of you who are able to join us in these efforts.
The Museum of Modern Art's conservation staff and speakers from the American Institute for Conservation Collections Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT) were scheduled to meet Sunday in "a series of workshops to help the many artists and galleries whose works were affected by Hurricane Sandy":
They will provide suggestions and answer questions on how to safely handle damaged paintings, drawings, books, sculptures, and other artistic and cultural materials.  Visit MoMA.org for more information on this program.  MoMA has also issued Immediate Response for Collections, a document offering step-by-step guidelines for dealing with artworks damaged by flooding, and we will continue to lend knowledge and support to those carrying for collections affected by the storm.
If you are in a position to help others, you may want to visit nyc.gov for information on making donations and nycservice.org for information on volunteer opportunities.  Visitors to MoMA will also find a collection box in the Museum's lobby, with proceeds to be donated to relief efforts in Greater New York.

February 15, 2011

BBC reports Scientists Used Analytical Tools to Study Color Changes Over Time

BBC reports the findings of a study of the deterioration of the color yellow to brown in some of Vincent van Gogh's paintings:
"The researchers found that a change in the oxidation state of the element chromium (from chromium 6 to chromium 3) was linked to the darkening of chrome yellow paint."
For more information, read the complete article ("Van Gogh paintings 'degraded by UV-driven reaction'") on the BBC here.

Photo from the BBC website: Van Gogh's "Banks of the Seine", Oil on canvas, Paris, 1887, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

January 27, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: Contributor Lauren Cattey on Photomacrography


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

ARCA Class 2009 graduate Lauren wrote “Revolutionizing Security in the Art World One Photograph at a Time: Photomacrography and its Application to Protecting Cultural Property” for the Fall 2010 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. Ms. Cattey writes in her abstract:
“Photomacrography, high resolution close-up photography, is an important tool within the art world. The goal of photographing works in very close detail is to illustrate clearly the distinguishing features found on every single object. These photographic results can be used not only for analysis of the work of art, but as a protective layer of security. By demonstrating how photomacrography is used within the art world today and discussing how it should be used in the art world tomorrow, this known photographic process transforms itself from a tool for observation, documentation and analysis to a much needed security service to identify and protect cultural property for future generations.”
Ms. Cattey received her Bachelor of Arts from St. Louis University in May 2008 with a major in Criminal Justice, a minor in Psychology and a certificate in Forensic Science. While attending St. Louis University, she interned with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in their Sex Crimes section. As an intern, she set up accounts on MySpace and Facebook for the Sex Crimes section after solving a case using these social networking sites. Later she interned at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in the museum’s Protection Services department where she helped to review, edit, and organize security policies and procedures into a convenient security manual. In 2009, she graduated with honors from ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and was the Investigative Assistant to the Security Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

ARCA blog: Welcome to the ARCA blog, Lauren. Your article outlines how photomacrography can be used to document and authenticate artworks. Although conservators and art historians use this method to analyze art, you are proposing that photomacrography be used to protect artwork. Would this be expensive for museums and private collectors?
Ms. Cattey: The most expensive part of investing in photomacrographs for works of art would be the purchasing the photographic equipment (digital SLR camera, macro lens, tripod, computer). However, since most museums have the equipment already, it would be a matter of labor costs.
ARCA blog: You write that photomacrography simply refers to a technique used to photograph a subject at life-size or larger – actually up to forty times its actual size. Is special equipment involved? And how would these images be stored?
Ms. Cattey: Special equipment is needed. As mentioned previously, a digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera, macro lens, tripod, wireless shutter release and a computer with plenty of storage space. I would recommend backing up your images on an external hard drive or burning them to CDs for safe keeping.
ARCA blog: In your article, you discuss the work done at the J. Paul Getty Museum, could you elaborate here for our readers?
Ms. Cattey: In the summer of 2007, the J. Paul Getty Museum launched a new feature on their website in conjunction with the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Royal Collection. Developed by a paintings conservator and a paintings curator, Yvonne Szafran and Anne Woollett respectively, “Cranach Magnified” is a project that allows visitors of the site “to compare macroscopic details” of paintings by sixteenth century German Renaissance painter Cranach the Elder. The concept originated upon analysis of the Getty’s own Cranach painting, Faun and his Family with a Slain Lion. Szafran and Woollett observed in the painting’s background, a man running down hill, whose actual size is one-third of a centimeter.

This type of in-depth analysis provides many benefits for the art world and its enthusiasts. The access “Cranach Magnified” creates is unrivaled. Using photomacrography, the Getty Museum produced a new way to interact with works of art. It also allows side-by-side comparison of works that are in separate collections, which is the main objective of “Cranach Magnified.”
ARCA blog: In your article, you discuss a company, Art Access and Research, that uses photomacrography as an alternative security method, using cracks and brushstrokes of a painting as an ‘internal barcode’. You are suggesting that this can prevent a forgery from being passed off as an original. Could this be applied to all paintings?
Ms. Cattey: Yes, but it shouldn’t be limited to just paintings. It can be applied to prints, sketches, sculptures, etc. High resolution imaging captures features of the work of art that do not change, without damaging the original work. By having magnified images of the craquelure pattern, brushstrokes, signature or any unique identifier of that work of art not only deters forgery, but also helps in identification and proof of ownership disputes.
ARCA blog: How do you suggest that the art world begin using photomacrography to its fullest potential?
Ms. Cattey: To start, whether you are a museum, private institution, or private collector, having photographic records as an inventory list is essential. That way, if any misfortune does occur, the photographs will not only prove what you own, but will also help the insurance company, appraiser, restorer or police department do their jobs. It also adds to provenance, encouraging owners to take an interest in keeping track of the history for that work of art and their entire collections.
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January 24, 2011

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part Two, The Munch Museum

By Therese Veier

The Oslo Council inherited Munch’s works and property in 1946 and opened a museum in 1963. The museum expanded and renovated in 1994, the 50th anniversary of Munch’s death; the project was largely financed by the Japanese company Idemitsu Kosan co. Ltd.

Apart from a fascination and admiration for Munch’s art in Japan, why did a Japanese company have to finance this? Norway is a rich country by most comparisons, largely earned by oil findings. Isn’t it the obligation of Norway and the Oslo council to take care of our cultural inheritance?

In 2004, the museum experienced a violent theft, and was burglarized in broad daylight by two armed robbers who stole The Scream and Madonna. After this incident, the museum received money from the council to update security.

Immediately after the theft in 2004, the company Det norske Veritas was hired to perform a security analysis to minimize future risks regarding fire, water and humidity damage, and theft and armed robbery, according to Sture Portvik, information and marketing director at the Munch Museum.

Det Norske Veritas report recommended the installation of "a lockable gate for the general public at some distance from the entrance door"; a labyrinth in front of the gate; and metal detectors. The DNV report also recommended that the museum protect the valuable icons with glass and bolt all pieces onto the walls; upgrade burglary protection; and "further fire sectioning of the rooms where the art works are stored.”

“The only possible action towards armed robbers is to create enough time delay so that the police can get there in time,” says Monica Solem, project manager in DNV Consulting. She adds: “At the time of the robbery, there were hardly any barriers to overcome in the museum.”

The Munch museum also contacted other museums to enquire about security measures, and the company ABM-utvikling, that specializes in active and strategic development to strengthen archives, libraries and museums role as cultural and social institutions, according to Sture Portvik.

The museum radically altered their security. Visitors today are reminded of airport security checks when entering the museum, a long wall of bulletproof glass is in front of several art works and guards are placed throughout. Museums face a difficult task in how to best maximize security, be cost-efficient, care for the art works, and still keep the art available for the public.

In the fall of 2010, the Munch Museum hired a new director, Stein Olav Henrichsen. He told the press that the museum still faces big challenges that will have to be solved before the museum is scheduled to move in 2014 into a new building (nicknamed Lambda) by architect Juan Herreros. However opinion is split about whether a new museum should be built by the sea where it might be humid and no room for expansion, or if it is better to keep the present location and renovate the old building at Tøyen. On 17th of January 2011 the council issued a final hearing for the three cultural institutions, the Munch Museum, Stenersen Museum, and Deichmanske Main Library, that are planned to relocate to Bjørvika. The deadline for a final decision is set to the 28th of February.

The museum employees have asked for financial aid because 200-300 paintings badly need technical conservation before they can be moved. Several of the paintings suffer from discoloration and peeling, and they are especially fragile because of Munch’s experiments with technique and material, and his often rough way of handling his art. He would sometimes expose artworks to the elements of nature and let the result be part of his artistic expression.

In September 2010, the council decided to give the museum 26 million Norwegian kroner for conservation.

“The Department is facing a new major challenge: preparing all the works of art to be moved to the new museum building in Bjørvika in Oslo. The emergency conservation project started in the end of September. Project leader is P.hd painting conservator Biljana Topalova Casadiego. Emergency conservation of the Stenersen Collection is soon completed.”

Just before Christmas in December 2010, during a cold period in Oslo (minus 18-20 degrees Celsius), the museum had to close several exhibition rooms, including the main exhibition room. Water ran down the inside of the museum walls, other walls where extremely humid, and the air-conditioner and heating system malfunctioned. The director informed the press that the museum had been struggling for a long time with the task of trying to provide a safe environment for the art in an inadequate building with a bad infrastructure. Several problems are due to lack of maintenance and technical insufficiencies. It is very hard to maintain stable temperatures inside the building, especially when the weather outside is cold, and condensation increases in rooms with outer walls. He compares the climate inside to a sauna, it is humid and lacks oxygen. To prevent permanent damage several artworks were put in storage, and employees took turns wiping the walls with cloths to try and keep them dry.

These problems have now been repaired. On Friday 7th of January the rehabilitation of the main exhibition room was finished, the outer walls of the museum had been isolated, and the damaged surfaces inside fixed and painted, according to Sture Portvik.

On January 21st, 2011, a new exhibition with the title “eMunch.no Text and image” opened. The exhibition is accompanied by an online publication of Munch’s texts and is intended to be used as a digital search archive. The museum also plans to make all correspondence to Munch available online as well. In 2008, a catalogue raisonné was published, and senior curator Gerd Woll at the Munch Museum is currently working on a catalogue about Munch’s prints that will be released in both Norwegian and English, according to Sture Portvik.

The museum is currently working on a strategy to make Munch’s art more available and to increase the number of visitors as well as encourage more research, with longer opening hours, lectures, concerts, new digitalized material, English translations and a new museum shop, Stein Olav Henrichsen told the press.

It seems that the museum is on the right track with a new director that has the ambition and will to care properly for Munch’s inheritance. I hope he will have the means. He is dependent on financial support from the council, because there is little private art sponsoring in Norway.

December 3, 2010

Renowned Art Conservator Julia Brennan discusses her adventures in conservation and the ARCA Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime


Julia Brennan is a renowned art conservator specializing in textiles. In an interview with Noah Charney, Julia discusses her international adventures in conservation, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime, and the cleaning of The Ghent Altarpiece.
Read more at Suite101: Renowned Conservator Discusses Art, Art Crime, and Van Eyck http://www.suite101.com/content/renowned-conservator-discusses-art-art-crime-and-van-eyck-a316311#ixzz173Y2vP4B