Art Counsel

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Archive for February, 2010

Sandblasting the Modern Wing


Chicago readers probably already know that the Modern Wing of the AIC was marred by graffiti some days ago – and kudos for the quick response and having it removed as soon as possible. HOWEVER (and this is difficult for me to say without extreme passion or expletive because I was a historian/office manager for a historic masonry preservation firm for eight years), when removing graffiti from historic or otherwise important masonry buildings, sandblasting is the absolute last resort because it permanently damages the weatherproof surface of the masonry and promotes rapid deterioration of structural integrity. You would think that a museum with archives dedicated to architecture would have consulted preservation specialists before going ahead.

By the way, consulting a restoration company is not the same thing as consulting a preservationist. If you ask for sandblasting from a restoration contractor, you will get sandblasting. Restoration firms are in the business of giving the customer what they want, not necessarily what they need. And to be fair, the damage done to the Modern Wing is not the contractor’s fault. They did what they were paid to do. Preservationists are who you want to call when this kind of problem comes up. They are trained to understand long term effects of preservation/restoration efforts and are generally semi-detached from the construction industry so are more likely to give objective advice and to lead you to the proper restoration techniques and specialists.

Anyway, I do not know who is in charge of these kinds of decisions at the AIC (I suspect it is not the architectural archives), but whoever you are, here is a link to a technical preservation brief on graffiti removal techniques from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior that is considered standard by historic preservation departments and societies.

Now, please call a reputable preservationist to ask how to consolidate the masonry to prevent accelerated weathering damage. Sheesh!

Conceptually Speaking, Michael Landy’s “Art Bin” scores a big “Meh”

When the promos for Landy’s Art Bin exhibition were first flying around, it seemed truly subversive, but upon learning that he is not destroying “valuable” art but castoffs, which as artistic failures are really only on the edge of what might be called “art”, the concept was quite disappointing.  So what? He is putting garbage in a garbage bin.  The only remotely interesting thing seems that the garbage of many is collected at a single onsite orgy of artistic self-absorption.

The concept is touted as “a monument to creative failure” and has no apparent connection to current events and concerns.  True, Philip Hensher claims that “Landy’s important…because just at this moment we’re slightly disenchanted with money itself, we’re slightly disenchanted with money’s power to act as an aesthetic judgment in itself.”  But this seems looking through the telescope backwards.  In a time when loss and hardship are commonly felt due to the economy, and in a world where wasting materials is a guilt-ridden experience due to ecological concerns this seems ill-timed.  Not that I think these political concerns are intended to be foregrounded here, as the act of destroying rejected art is not on a level with destroying rain forest with intentional Exxon oil spills.  If he is going for shock-value or making his bid as the Siva of the art world, it would seem more powerful to destroy things of real and enduring value to someone, as he did in Break Down, though magnified to everyone.  Then again, this would merely seem a bit of one-upmanship were he to do so.  Though this is mildly different, it seems muted and even a bit lazy.

Where are the famously resonant recontextualizations?    Am I missing something?  Yeah I get the undercurrent of the “one man’s trash…” proverb and that Landy is not acting as a “judge” and all things are created equal (blah, blah, blah).   Sure, there are many who would like to own even the lowliest of castoffs from some of the donating artists, so perhaps one can cull a certain irony in poking fun at those who would be chagrined at the destruction:  those who might be considered junkmen collectors; those who find value in artists’ mistakes; the nouveau riche for bad taste…  But really, if this is any part of his intention or of the general reaction, how post-modern (zzzzzzz)!    Perhaps the ultimate irony is that this appears to be, all-in-all, a throwaway concept by Landy himself.