Faking it – making replicas of artworks

12 Jul
Cash Brown at the Stadelijk

Hanging out with three magnificent Schoonhoven works at the Stadelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Conservators often face complex issues when faced with contemporary artworks. The materials, techniques and rationale behind them can often be better understood through the construction of replicas. While undertaking a recent internship at the Rabo Art Collection with Rabobank Netherlands, I was lucky enough to work with conservator Lydia Beerkens. Together, three small relief works by the artist from the collection were replicated. To find out how and why, follow the link!

The home of Heironimous Bosch

11 Jun

S’ Hertogenbosch is a pretty town in the Netherlands, famed as the home of  the Heironimous Bosch who was born there around 1450 died there in 1516.

I like an artist who is not afraid of changing their name, and despite no original paintings by the stand alone master, this town has AMAZING BALLS!

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People queue for Bossche bollen (chocoladebollen) and after eating one of the giant cream filled chocolatey pastry balls of deliciousness, I can see why!

Oh my god, knife and fork and exercise required

Oh my god, knife and fork and exercise required

Almost undoubtedly, as was vogue among his contemporaries in Italy, Bosch changed his name  to Heironimous Bosch , probably to reflect and to draw attention to his home, ie ‘s-Hertogenbosch (the Duke’s – Hertog – woods – bosch), but perhaps also to distinguish himself from the Van Aken name he was born with, as his dad, uncles and brothers were all into the art game. Alas there is no surviving grave for me to visit and frottage either, so this post is more about the highlights I found in a few hours when visiting this delightful town. Spelling is different everywhere so please do not quote me.

The first thing you are confronted with in this magical town after disembarking the ridiculously convenient intercity train is the magnificent golden dragon atop a mighty pole in the middle of a super fountain on the first traffic island. I view this as a sentinel for the town, which stimulated the imagination of one of the greatest artists of all time.

 

 

 

 

Knit bombing, guerilla crochet and other yarns…

23 May

The small city of Utrecht in the Netherlands is a charming place filled with canals, bicycles, the tallest cathedral in the Netherlands and lovely parks. A short stroll down my canal side street on my first day here revealed a very exciting public artwork. The artist/s are unknown, it is probably illegal, but is one of the most delightful outdoor site specific yarn installations I have seen.

Cosy car

Cosy car

Bike bomb

Bike bomb

Crocheted canal

Crocheted canal

No barriers

No barriers

Bridge of happiness

Bridge of happiness

 

If you noticed from my last post that I seem to be drawn to works with an element of craft, well you would be right. I am assuming it is a sort of art envy, as although I can paint and draw, find it difficult to even sew on a button, let alone knit one –  pearl two. There is a lot of dedication, and humility in this type of  practice. I found this particular installation (which spans a footbridge adjacent to a huge bridge building site and extends 400m down one side of the canal until the next bridge) to be a delightful departure from the more predictable forms of street art, which can often damage buildings and create a psychological barrier to entering spaces where it prevails.

Graffiti v Street Art I prefer the crafty approach!

Graffiti v Street Art
I prefer the crafty approach!

I admire artists who use methods traditionally associated with craft, and curated an exhibition in Sydney in 2010 which reflected that reverence. Hands On | Craft in contemporary art featured emerging and established Australian artists whose primary mode of production involved working with yarn or other traditional craft based materials and methods to realise their work.

Human hair, buttons, telephone directories, cane toad leather, tea towels, native grasses, electrical cords, latex, socks, rags, deconstructed woolen rugs and blankets, silk,  shipping rope and fishing line were all stitched, woven, glued and pressed into a fabulous range of sculptures, installations and images. You can check out the catalogue here, but be warned, there are a few saucy things in there – but hey, I am sure you  would expect nothing less from me!

 

Art Basel|Hong Kong: highlights

20 May

A few days in Hong Kong is never really enough, especially when Art Basel is on. The event itself is pretty exciting, with international exhibitors, launch parties, talks, satellite events and art nights in creative precincts making it a great destination for antipodean round eyes wanting to soak up as much international art as possible.

The VIP program was outstanding, and I particularly enjoyed the wonderful talk at Duddell’s on 20th Century Chinese brush paintings, an area which I have no scholarship, but a new found interest in a very beautiful art form. Fiona Hall’s talk was a wonderful insight into her practice, and upcoming 2015 Venice Biennial installation in the new Australian Pavilion in the Giardini.

In a sea of works under super bright lights on site, many highlights are worth mentioning… in pictures. Funny I can see some biases emerging! If you missed the show, check out some of the work online here.

What's not to love about Neo Rauch?

What’s not to love about Neo Rauch?

Harland Miller I Can Can I, 2014 watercolour on paper 152 x 121.5 cm Ingleby Gallery - Edinburgh

Harland Miller
I Can Can I, 2014
watercolour on paper
152 x 121.5 cm
Ingleby Gallery – Edinburgh

Jonathan Owen Untitled, 2014 carved 19th century marble bust with further carving 80 x 60 x 13.7 cm Ingleby Gallery - Edinburgh

Jonathan Owen
Untitled, 2014
carved 19th century marble bust with further carving
80 x 60 x 13.7 cm
Ingleby Gallery – Edinburgh

If you have to ask the price, you cant afford it.

If you have to ask the price, you cant afford it.

Fascinator?

Fascinator?

Crystal studded antlers mmmmm

Crystal studded antlers mmmmm

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Morandi magic

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Pony fetish

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Vibha Galhotra – thousands of tiny bells and encaustic works of sediment in water

Tony Oursler - a brilliant use of micro projector

Tony Oursler – a brilliant use of micro projector

Not much art being made, but conserving a Rubens copy was very rewarding!

20 May

Rubens was a very interesting character, and clearly the author of a 19C copy, bought by a private collector at a Sydney auction last year, thought so too.

Untitled – Rubens copy is a framed painting with the appearance of oil bound pigments on linen. The artist, title, date, provenance and origin is unknown. It is a copy of one of three identical self-portraits by Flemish Baroque painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640), painted between 1623 and 1625. Similarities and differences between all three exist, however Untitled – Rubens copy bears a closer resemblance to the 1623- 1625 version held in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy.

 

Untitled - Rubens copy, before treatment

Untitled – Rubens copy, before treatment

Untitled - Rubens copy verso before treatment

Untitled – Rubens copy, verso, before treatment

Untitled – Rubens copy lacks the finesse, handling, subtleties, blending and impasto of the original paintings by the old master (Huyghe 1964, p. 241, Luxford 2008, p. 226). The version currently hanging in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (on permanent loan from the National Gallery of Australia) was viewed in January 2014, while the custodian of Untitled – Rubens copy viewed the Uffizi version in February 2014. The custodian agreed that the authenticity of the work was not in question, and that authorship would be near impossible to ascertain.

As colour photographic copies were available from late 19C in art magazines, and monographs with high quality colour plates from 1911, it is possible the work was made as a transcription from a printed copy (Torcellini 2009, np). However the appearance of the canvas suggests Untitled – Rubens copy could pre date this era. It is also possible that Untitled – Rubens copy was made from another copy, or copied in situ at the Uffizi, where it has hung since Cosimo III de Medici purchased the work around 1625 (Drury 2000, p.337).

A comparison of the Untitled copy, and three versions by the hand of the old master

A comparison of the Untitled copy, and three versions by the hand of the old master

Copies of old master works were collected and commissioned by English travelers visiting Florence while on the Grand Tour between 1660 and 1840. Only the Uffizi version would have been on public display or accessible to copyists, students and photographers prior to the mid twentieth century.

Untitled – Rubens copy had suffered severe damage and its condition was in an advanced state of degradation. The painting was insecure, no longer stable and at risk of further degradation through instability of primary support and unknown chemical reactions occurring as a result of a combination of the degradation of original materials, and compatibility with unoriginal materials from previous interventive treatments.

The treatment aims were to: reinstate chemical stability and pictorial unity and where possible, originality of the painting. To ensure future usefulness, the frame was treated in order to unify appearance and meet conservation standards. Skills development was an integral aim, which meant a relaxation of the AICCM Code of Ethics and Code of Practice which stresses that conservators must recognise their limitations when undertaking treatments.

The treatment of the painting involved cleaning, varnish removal, removing bulges and distortions with humidification, strip lining, re stretching, infilling, inpainting, revarnishing and preparation for rehousing.

Untitled - Rubens copy during treatment, after cleaning and re stretching, losses were infilled in preparation for inpainting

Untitled – Rubens copy during treatment, after cleaning and re stretching, losses were infilled in preparation for inpainting

The ethical considerations of this treatment were discussed at each step, however a large question will always surround the ethics of full, partial or selective cleaning. By presuming to guess at the artist’s intent, and without a clear idea as to the original or unoriginal material, the decision to proceed with the removal of perceived overpaint could be regarded as unethical. However it is generally agreed that overpaint without historical significance should be removed to bring the painting closer to its ‘presumed original state’ (Boersma & Giltaij 1998 in von der Goltz 2012, p. 499).

A positivist approach was taken with this treatment, where ‘experimental investigation and observation become the source of knowledge’. It is acknowledged there can be two schools of thought with regard to maintaining the historical and artistic integrity, and legibility of artworks, and the inherent conflict which arises at all stages of cleaning, which is ‘a physical process in search of an aesthetic ideal’ (Bomford 2012, p.489). The two schools are 1: to manipulate the outcomes during cleaning (minimal intervention), and 2: to remove all accretions (at the risk of damaging the paint) and manipulate afterwards with ‘scrupulous high quality retouching’. As the overpainting served no historically significant or creative function, it prevented the artwork from carrying out its intention, which is the ‘expression of its own formal, stylistic and iconographic content’ (Ciatti 1990, p. 59). The overpaint and varnishes may have also caused deformations and cupping of the primary support due to high and unevenly distributed tensile forces.

The extrinsic aims of treatment were made clear from the outset, and the latter of the two schools was adopted, halting cleaning where it became obvious that the image layer was incurring losses. This may not be the appropriate approach for future treatments or custodians.

Untitled - Rubens copy near end of treatment, a radical improvement visually, but also a more chemically and physically stable painting

Untitled – Rubens copy near end of treatment, a radical improvement visually, but also a more chemically and physically stable painting

Untitled- Rubens copy verso, after treatment

Untitled- Rubens copy verso, after treatment

The result of treatment is hopefully a closer approximation of the original creative function of Untitled – Rubens copy than would have been possible with minimal intervention. The treatment is still to be completed, with more inpainting, varnishing and rehousing.  A lot was learnt, mistakes were made, and I look forward to the next conservation challenge and developing skills as a conservator.

 

 

 

Made to last…

1 Feb Brook Andrew, Men 2011, rare postcards, sapele and neon, Courtesy the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne Photography: Christian Capurro

One of the great things about taking the time to visit regional galleries is seeing exhibitions and artworks  in environments which often have a focus on their locale, history or the procilvities of benefactors or directors.

As a new resident of Victoria, I have been slowly making my way around the state to visit regional and private galleries and am always delighted by the variety and flavour these excursions provide.

Today I visited the McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park for the first time,  to take a look at the Made To Last: the conservation of art  exhibition before it closes on Sunday 2 February 2014.

Made To Last: the conservation of art  is an intriguing exhibition featuring five very different artists, including Penny Byrne whose work I have highlighted in a previous post. This wonderful exhibition gives insightful entries into artists materials, methods and reasons for choosing them, as well as some very interesting information on how work is looked after in transit, in the gallery, longer term concerns and how the artists themselves consider their work over time. Curator Sherryn Vardy is a recent graduate from the Master of Conservation of Cultural Materials (which I am currently undertaking), and am pleased and encouraged to see such a strong exhibition coming from an interdisciplinary approach.

I took these photos myself today with my iPad, and thank gallery staff for permission to do so.

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With materials ranging from live plants, wood block prints on handmade paper and neon/timber/video composites to lollies, oil on canvas and synthetic turf, issues of permanence, reproduction and longevity are easily recognisable as conservation issues worthy of consideration. The interesting thing for me, was the emphasis on communication and indeed collaboration between conservator, artist, custodian, curator and venue which is necessary but usually a hidden and mysterious aspect of the public presentation of artworks.

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The exhibition holds together very well, with works selected all of an intimate scale, allowing the viewer to contemplate the materiality of each work up close and personal. It is playful, humorous and even includes a rather gorgeous packing crate which could easily be mistaken for a contemporary work in its own right.

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‘Made to last: the conservation of art brings together five living contemporary artists who use a range of complex materials in their work: Brook Andrew, Penny Byrne, Juan Ford, Ghostpatrol and Claire Anna Watson. While some materials a conservator encounters may be unstable, a different kind of instability is evident in the themes of the five artists included in Made to last, involving the impact of humanity on the world – past, present and future’ (Sherryn Vardy 2013)

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If you missed it, please follow the link to the exhibition which has wonderful texts and a really interesting video. The exhibition will be travelling to Darwin in late March and is well worth a visit if you happen to be in the tropics! Details of dates and venue will be posted here shortly.

Cash Brown 2014

Myanmar time warp

26 Jan

I was fortunate enough to spend much of December and January in Myanmar (Burma) on an excellent adventure with my intrepid daughter. As there is little or no infrastructure there, and the government ruled by military junta, the state of the arts is in many ways rather grim.

National Museum, Yangon

National Museum, Yangon, looks modern and well kept on the outside…

There may well be a flourishing underground contemporary arts scene, but none we could find. The National Museum holds fascinating treasures, important archaeological and historical objects, however the condition of the building and the vast majority of its contents can only be described as woeful.

Caring for art and artefacts in tropical climates is challenging, especially if the materials and techniques of the works are not endemic to the region, for example photography, works on paper and oil paintings.  All examples of these types of cultural materials showed signs of degradation ranging from mild to severe, while the musical instruments, lacquerware, wooden artefacts, stone and ceramic fared better. Little or no climate control within the building envelope and unsympathetic display conditions have resulted in extensive corrosion for many metal artefacts. Dust, insect and physical damage combined with annual exposure to high relative humidity appears to have caused extensive damage to ornately beaded and metallic thread costumes.

the-ceremonial-royal

Ceremonial Royal Dress worn by the last monarch of Burma, King Thibaw, prior to exile to India in 1885.

Works on paper appear to have acidic mounts, and are affected by mould, foxing, warping and acid burn, while paintings on canvas are warped, mouldy and blooming. Repairs to many stone images of the Buddha appear to have been made with proprietary adhesives, with many noses slipping slightly from their original positions.

Perhaps fortunately for the artefacts, but less fortunate for visitors, is that the lighting is very poor throughout the gallery, with intermittent fluorescents and the rare tungsten globe in a myriad of unused fittings. It is forbidden to take photographs in the museum and there are very few available on the web to illustrate my claims.

Over time, the government may change and seek to invest funds into the preservation of its national treasures. This will require enormous resources and keep conservators busy for a very long time. Its a great illustration of how prevention is better than cure, and also how privileged we are in developed countries to have access to such wonderful collections housed in well resourced facilities.

Cash Brown 2014

Artist turns conservator, who would have thought it?

23 Jan

It seems pretty natural to me that after years of making art and working within the cultural sector to support my career, that turning toward conservation would be an appropriate pathway to stimulate and invigorate my professional life. The material science aspect, archival qualities of materials, issues of access, ethics, politics of collecting and the detective like nature of much of conservation activity is as exciting as it is broad, interdisciplinary and open ended.

Apparently many artists turn to conservation as an alternative to teaching and administration positions, but conservators turning their hand to the production of fine art is a much rarer occurrence. Artist Penny Byrne has within the last decade risen to prominence as a very gifted and highly collectable contemporary artist. After 20 years as a conservator, her finely tuned skills applied to the restoration of ceramics are now applied to composite creations in ready-made porcelain found in op shops and on Ebay. To find out more about this very interesting artist, go here… http://www.artcollector.net.au/PennyByrneTheporcelainvandal

and here… http://www.netsvictoria.org.au/penny-byrne/

I am a big fan  of her work and hopefully soon will be able to pop one of her delightful pieces on my mantle piece.

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An ode to Adam Cullen.

23 Jan

Adam Cullen and I had an interesting relationship. At first we were friends, then lovers, then friends, then acquaintances. At times we were enemies. Adam made some lifestyle choices which at the time were incompatible with mine, so we went our separate ways. We had made collaborative works together, and despite our differences, Adam was very supportive of my work, and I of his. I made several portraits of him from 2004 – 2007, and it is during these years that we had the most contact.

whats next

What’s Next? 2004, oil on canvas 150 x 180 cm

Adam Cullen and Growler, 2005, oil on canvas, 180 x 150 cm

Adam passed away on 28 July 2012 after enduring a series of serious medical conditions.

In 2008, he kindly wrote this catalogue essay for me for my solo exhibition Appropriate, at Robin Gibson Gallery.

Cash Brown has always made art… in some form of another. Whether it is printmaking, painting, installation, sculptural objects or drawing, she has maintained a constant devotion to aesthetics. Most importantly, Brown has never lost her sense of play.

This exhibition one might say is a climax, due to the fast she has thrown herself into her own melting pot of mediums she so furiously works with. It is her most major exhibition to date. Formally trained in academic painting at the National Art School, Brown has an almost obsessive preoccupation with the history of western painting and its socio-political baggage. This provides a departure point for her conceptual repertoire of visual and linguistic “gags”. The works in “Appropriate” draw their predominant and immediate visual reference from Gustave Courbet’s famous “Origin of the World” painting from 1866. From the grandfather of modernism one wouldn’t expect anything less!.. In a multitude of sublime meanings it exists as an image of a female torso, but its possible interpretations are practically endless.

“The Origin of the World” could be read as a landscape – a snapshot freeze frames of the infinite, the mystery of the human subject with all its existential pain and bodily pleasures rolled into one curious state of topographical being.

Brown, with her masterly paint work and economy of content and form has unravelled and at the same time appropriated this voyeuristic premise with her own unique technique and system of humour has created a kind of surreal pornography. The voluminous flesh is the surface which she scarifies. I use the term pornographic because we are so overly and completely saturated with nudity. It is nothing short of bravery that Brown undertakes a “series of nudes”. Brown has captured and consequently created a strange animistic and primitive hybrid.

These works are almost dream-scapes, a bizarre document of the evolution of psychoanalysis and hypnotherapy – all the hallmarks of the big themes, feminism, death, beauty and the geography of the unconscious. Close ups of what and how we think a riddle in itself.

Brown’s work is testament to her skill as a painter and a conceptual thinker. One can’t help but look at this manic collection of deliberated psycho sexualised felines and canines classical mythological icons. So why execute such strange and other worldly images made from the mixing of historical references? Why does a dog lick its crotch? Because it can. Why does an artist make cultural artefacts? Because they can.

Finally a great painting is a documented battle between realism, expression and abstraction. Brown successfully and rather uniquely executes this concept of trans substantiation.

Adam Cullen
March 2008