Selection of Art Works for Conservation

Today we were given a list of priceless artifacts from the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Though these three-dimensional artifacts range from the last quarter of the 17th century to modern art, they all have one thing in common: the need for quality storage solutions. We decided to tackle a total of five pieces. One piece we decided to tackle as a large, team project that presents a significant challenge. The four smaller pieces will be managed by a team leader who will master the issues surrounding the artifact’s material composition.

For the large team project we will be working on a piece by Antonio Berni, an Argentinean artist. Created in 1964, La sordidez is the largest piece selected in physical dimension, at a staggering 400 centimeters long. It is made from a variety of material including wood, steel, cardboard, roots, and enamel.

Rhodes Coffey will be the project manager for the storage of a marble bust called, Portrait of a Gentleman, created by the workshop of Gian-Lorenzo Bernini that dates back to the end of the 17th century. Caleb Brown will be overseeing a storage solution for, Head of a Child, a wax and plaster sculpture by Medardo Rosso created in 1892. Kristi Day selected Aster 350 T12/5000K, a fragile piece made of fluorescent lighting by Thomas Glassford in 2001. Nicole Garcia will be focusing on a paper dress designed by Ginger Owen-Murakami in 2007-08 called History Dress #1.

These pieces were selected based on the diversity of the materials used to create them, the age of the artifact, and the way they rest or hang. We have decided that everyone will work on each piece under the direction of the designated project manager for that piece. This will ensure that each piece’s specific needs are addressed adequately in the overall design of our storage solution.

Conservation Tour of MFAH

Today, we were given a tour of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) collection and storage areas by Wynne Phelan, MFAH Conservation Director, and Julie Bakke, Chief Registrar of the MFAH. They started the tour by showcasing a variety of pieces in the museum and explaining the conservation issues surrounding these pieces.

One of the things we learned was that the history of the piece’s treatment was often more important than the age of the piece. We also learned about the specific concerns for different materials. They talked about specific needs for the housing of each piece. Some of the main priorities in establishing housing are visibility of the piece, minimizing handling, stabilizing the piece inside the housing, and making efficient use of space in the storage facilities.

They also gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the current storage facilities. The storage of most of the MFAH permanent collection takes place at an off-site facility. We will be touring this facility next week. In the storage areas, we were surprised to find such basic components as cardboard boxes and bubblewrap that were being used to protect priceless works of art. Many of the objects weren’t packed at all, but placed on crowded shelves. This really opened our eyes to the need for a new approach to housing artwork.

After finishing the tour, we were able to sit down with Wynne and Julie and have some of our specific questions answered so that we could get a better understanding of the goals of our project. We need to create housing solutions that will meet the needs of the artwork under all circumstances with the exception of when they are on display. We came away with a better vision of what our project is really aiming for.

One of the most exciting things about our day was having a chance to see some of the pieces that Wynne and Julie had selected as possiblities for us to work with. A few of those pieces are currently on display at the museum, while others are in storage. After our museum trip, we had a chance to sit down and discuss which pieces we should design housing for. Choosing the actual pieces that will be the basis for our project was an important step, and is really making the project start to come to life.