Monday, June 20, 2016

When disasters strike, keep calm and conserve



When disasters strike, keep calm and conserve

Facing physical, financial and political catastrophe, leading conservators share their survival strategies
by Emily Sharpe  |  20 June 2016

The theme for the joint conference of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property (CAC) couldn’t have been more spot on. As 1,400 conservators, archivists and museum professionals met in Montreal to discuss preparing for disasters and the unexpected in conservation, a massive wildfire raged 3,800km away in Alberta. Early estimates suggest that the blaze, which was still active as we went to press, has so far caused between $5bn and $10bn worth of damage, surpassing the $5bn caused by the devastating floods in the same region in 2013.

The conference was timed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Florence Flood of 1966—a revolutionary moment in the history of conservation, not only because of the lessons learned and the development of new technologies and methods, but also because it attracted a new generation of conservators to the field. And while the conference did include several brilliant talks related to the 1966 flood, there were also discussions related to other natural and man-made disasters, as well as ones on innovative treatments using cutting-edge technology, revamping disaster preparedness plans and race and diversity within the field.

Here are some top tips and a sampling of the topics discussed at the conference.

“Mud angels” saved works of art in the disastrous floods in Florence in 1966. Photo by Gerard Gery/Georges Menager/Paris Match via Getty Images

Being a “mud angel”—one of the thousands of Italian and foreign volunteers who aided in the recovery of thousands of works of art and books that were damaged after the Arno River burst its banks in Florence in November 1966—was a defining moment in many people’s lives. It certainly was for the conference’s keynote speaker, Anne-Imelda Radice, the former director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and
current director of the American Folk Art Museum in New York. She was an 18-year-old student struggling with her studies when the disaster happened. At her father’s suggestion, she travelled to Florence and helped to pass rare books down the line. “It really changed me, made me become more serious,” she said. “It really motivated me for my entire career.” She has made preservation initiatives a priority in her various roles over the years. In her closing remarks to the packed audience of conservators and heritage professionals, she said: “You’ll always have my heart, my commitment and I’ll always campaign for you.”

A forensic archaeologist in the Glasgow School of Art, following the disastrous fire. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Glasgow School of Art’s beloved Mackintosh building, named after its illustrious designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, caught fire in May 2014. One of the greatest casualties was its library—the epitome of the concept of “total architecture” in that its structure, furniture and lighting were all designed by Mackintosh—and the collection it housed. Polly Christie, the archives and collections recovery project lead, described how the archive, with its 435 linear metres of architectural records and 12 linear metres of photographs, is taking “centre stage in the restoration efforts”. Digital scans of the building, taken before and after the disaster, are “providing an amazing point of reference to see how the structure has moved and settled down”, said Sarah Mackinnon, the project manager for the Mackintosh building’s restoration. The library’s original lights will be reconstructed using pieces found during a forensic-archaeological excavation. Because they blur the boundary between what is part of the collection and the building’s fabric, Mackinnon advised to carefully examine your insurance policy to make sure things cannot fall between collection and fabric coverage.

Flooding in Manhattan after Superstorm Sandy hit New York in 2012. © 2012 Allison Joyce/Getty Images
Hurricanes and superstorms

Nearly four years on, Superstorm Sandy is still very much on the minds of witnesses to the deadly “Franken-storm” that submerged areas of lower Manhattan. Among the many arts institutions affected by the flooding was Eyebeam, a non-profit arts and technology studio, then located in Chelsea. Around half of its 3,000-strong collection of analogue and digital media works was submerged in around three feet of salt water, and $250,000 worth of equipment was damaged. Kara Van Malssen, a senior consultant with the data management consulting firm AVPreserve, who helped with the recovery efforts, offered advice she gleaned from the project: maintain contacts of local resources and get to know them; make the hard decisions, such as which pieces to prioritise, in advance; and anchor disaster preparedness into the organisation’s culture. She also stressed the need to migrate audio-visual media, and said that disaster preparedness is a motivating factor for this process.

Graffiti in Detroit in 2013 makes clear the city’s plight. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

The experience of treating Florence’s treasures after the Great Flood of 1966 and later disaster mitigation training left Barbara Heller, the director and conservator of special projects at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), feeling as if she was suitably prepared for most conservation-related crises. But nothing could have prepared Heller and her colleagues for the “stress and uncertainty” caused when the museum’s owner, the City of Detroit, $7bn in debt, filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The city’s governor-appointed bankruptcy manager asked Christie’s to evaluate the DIA’s collection to see how much could be raised by selling off some of it. Heller researched the collection to confirm which works were donated to the museum and therefore could not be sold. While a deal was eventually struck that transferred the museum’s ownership to a non-profit corporation and thus moved the collection beyond the reach of the city, Heller stressed that access to a searchable archive was essential to her work. She discovered discrepancies in regards to ownership that were not noted in the collection’s database.

Earthquake damage at a temple in the historic city of Bhaktapur, Nepal, a Unesco World Heritage Site, photograph by Omar Havana/Getty Images)

Two presenters discussed the recovery efforts in Nepal after the deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake in April 2015. Political instability, bureaucracy and a lack of capacity to implement some of the recovery projects were listed as challenges. Aparna Tandon, a project specialist from Iccrom, suggested tying cultural heritage first aid to humanitarian relief projects to make the most of funding—for example, training programmes for stonemasons. Gina Irish, a registrar at New Zealand’s Christchurch Art Gallery, provided a museum’s perspective on earthquake recovery. In February 2011, a 6.3-magnitude quake rocked Christchurch, killing 185 people and levelling parts of the city. Irish showed CCTV footage from the gallery that showed a sculpture crash to the floor, boxes shaking in a storage area and children, schooled in earthquake preparedness, dropping to the floor. The experience taught her, among other things, that solutions to problems such as how to brace items in racks can be found in unexpected places, including big warehouse supermarkets. The gallery reopened in late 2015.

The church of St Simeon Stylites in Syria, before it was bombed earlier this year. J P BURGESS
The church of St Simeon Stylites in Syria, before it was bombed earlier this year. J P BURGESS

In recent years, we have become all too aware that man-made disasters, especially armed conflict, also threaten the world’s heritage. Brian Daniels from the Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania Museum discussed the concept of community archaeology and the need to engage with heritage advocates on the ground. The Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq (Shosi) initiative was born from this idea and involves, among other things, training local museum staff to prepare artefacts for transport and how to protect immovable artefacts. Shosi helped with the latter at Syria’s Ma’arra Mosaic Museum, which has many large mosaics encased in concrete. A layer of water-soluble glue was applied to the face of the mosaics and then covered with a piece of fabric. Sandbags were then placed in front. In June 2015, when a barrel bomb struck the museum, the mosaics remained largely intact. The museum was bombed again days before the conference and Daniels said the measures appear to have offered “some level of protection”. Geopolitics also can sometimes impede site protection, as was the case of the Church of St Simeon Stylites, Syria, that was bombed in May.

Top Disaster Preparedness Tips

• It’s not the plan, but the planning that is key
• Don’t just have a list of support networks—get to know them  
• Accept that it’s not going to be 100% perfect

The Art Market, Explained: The Rise of the Art Fair

In 2015, art fairs generated an estimated $12.7 billion in profits for exhibiting galleries. But why do collectors attend fairs in droves? And what’s behind their rapid international proliferation? The fourth installment of “The Art Market (in Four Parts)” tracks how the art fair has transformed from a trade show into a platform where all aspects of the art market—galleries, collectors, curators, and artists—converge, and why they keep coming back. Fair directors and art-world influencers like Noah Horowitz, Matthew Slotover, Elmgreen & Dragset, Michele Maccarone, Josh Baer, and Sarah Thornton provide their insights.

Art Fairs is the final installment of a four-part documentary series, preceded by Auctions, Galleries, and Patrons. Together, the four segments tell a comprehensive story about the art market’s history and cultural influence.
This series is directed by Oscar Boyson and produced in collaboration with UBS.

—Artsy Editors

What’s Sold at Art Basel in Basel

What’s Sold at Art Basel in Basel

As the art world descended on Switzerland this week for the 47th edition of Art Basel in Basel, the finance and business worlds continued to mull over the fact that one week from today, Britain may vote to exit the European Union. Brexit, as the referendum has been termed, is among a laundry list of factors that have some market analysts, wealth managers, and central bank economists alike predicting increased volatility in the global economy.

Installation view of Annet Gelink’s booth at Art Basel, 2016. Photo by Benjamin Westoby for Artsy.
And as VVIPs entered Art Basel on Tuesday morning, Germany’s became the latest among a number of European central banks (including that of Switzerland) to take interest rates on certain assets negative. The countries, seen as safe havens for capital by skittish investors, are essentially being paid to hold onto those investors’ money and are encouraging spending to combat lackluster growth, as well as levels of inflation that are considered unhealthy in the marketplace. The Fed and the Bank of Japan also voted to keep rates low this week, moves which in their sum have led other investors to ask what fiscal levers would be left to pull should the global economy crack.
The art market is, of course, not immune to jitters about Brexit, the U.S. presidential election, and the state of the economy. “It’s clear that political and economic situations do have an impact on the art market,” said Patricia C. Amberg, the executive director and head of UBS’s Art Competence Center. “When we look around the globe, there are quite a lot of crises and wars. It affects the art market, but it affects some areas more than others. There is still a demand for pieces of very high quality. But collectors are maybe not as spontaneous as they were five years ago. They are observing more; they know they have to compare prices.”

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Amberg’s division of UBS, which offers its services to those within the bank’s division for ultra-high-net-worth individuals, does not take an investment view with regard to art. “The financial markets and the art market are completely different. We focus on giving objective advice on quality,” said Amberg, cautioning particularly against art funds. However, that kind of quality-based advisement (as opposed to an adviser who focuses on more speculative purchasing opportunities) is currently seen across the market. Mirroring the recent Deloitte report on the state of art and wealth management, “store of value” was a buzz-phrase among dealers at Art Basel this week. Why pay the Bundesbank to look after your billions when you can buy a Picasso?
Or, as was the case at New York’s Mnuchin Gallery, a Brice Marden. The artist’s First Window Painting (1981), a four-panel, 16-foot-long work, sold from the gallery sold from the gallery for circa $4 million on Art Basel’s opening day, as did John Chamberlain’s Honest 508 (1973–74) for $3 million. “Coming in yesterday morning, we just weren’t sure,” said Mnuchin partner Sukanya Rajaratnam on Wednesday, citing the potential implications for the European economy posed by Brexit. “But I think that people still think of art as a respite, as a store of value, and as a source of optimism in their lives. Even though there are some collectors who have stopped or slowed, there are others that pick up the slack.”

Installation view of work by Paul McCarthy, presented by Hauser & Wirth, at Art Basel Unlimited, 2016. Photo by Benjamin Westoby for Artsy.
Along with Mnuchin, Hauser & Wirth also had a banner start to Art Basel week. Paul McCarthy was particularly popular for the gallery this year. The artist’s Tomato Head (Green) (1994), shown in Art Basel Unlimited, the fair’s sector for institutional-scale works, sold to an American private collection for $4.75 million, followed by the sale of McCarthy’s Michael Jackson Inflatable Drawings (2003) for $650,000 and sculpture WS, White Snow Flower Girl #3 (2016) for $575,000 on opening day. Another sculpture, Picabia Idol, Black (2016), sold on Wednesday for $750,000.
“People are searching for fantastic works. If you bring the right, great work by an artist, it will sell,” said Hauser & Wirth vice president and partner Marc Payot on Thursday. Payot reported that “an enormous amount more Asian collectors are present and active than even a couple of years ago.” This increased globalization was among the factors that pushed through a glut of further sales including Vija Celmins’s drawing Sea Drawing with Whale (ca. 1969; over $1.5 million), Maria Lassnig’s paintings Macht des Schicksals (The Power of Fate) (2006; $1.2 million) and Das Traumpaar (The Dream Couple) (2004; €550,000), Lee Lozano’s No title (ca. 1962; $280,000), a Philip Guston painting from 1968, and Dieter Roth’s Materialbild (1986–89). “These things are prepared well ahead. It’s not an accident,” said Payot of the considerable work done in advance of major events like Art Basel to ensure substantial results.

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The sentiment that these are not times to roll the dice was echoed across the fair, especially among dealers on the first floor selling secondary market historical material or pieces sourced from estates that have become increasingly prominent on both gallery rosters (Hauser & Wirth picked up no fewer than three new estates in the last year) and at Art Basel in the past two years. Galleries have also been careful to monitor their outlay ahead of this year’s fair, sourcing secondary market material of living artists for as close to primary market prices as possible to ensure they won’t be left at week’s end holding a cup of froth. The numbers may not be quite as high as in previous years as a result. But, like the recent New York auctions where nearly 60% less art sold by-value in comparison to one year before but with far fewer costly guarantees, the businesses behind the art being sold appear to remain strong thanks to this kind of shrewd dealmaking.
“Today, a gallery booth at an art fair has far less to do with offering a large selection of possible impulse buys and more with showing a targeted selection of carefully chosen works,” said Esther Schipper of the eponymous Berlin gallery, upstairs. All three editions of the gallery’s entry into Unlimited by Prabhavathi Meppayil’s tw/one (2016) in Unlimited. Schipper, Pace Gallery and Gallery Ske each presented and sold one edition, one of which went to a museum. Schipper reported that sales at the fair itself were “very strong” thanks to their advance preparation and Art Basel’s continued status as “the best sales platform of any art fair, globally.”

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Careful selection was also key at Jack Shainman’s booth, the gallery’s first in the main sector of the fair. Sales kicked off with Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Looking Man) (2016) for $350,000, which had come fresh from the artist’s Chicago studio. “Bringing a painting like that is kind of a luxury problem,” said Shainman of the fervent demand for Marshall’s work. “I’ve had a waiting list for work by Kerry even in the olden days,” when, in 2009, he presented the artist in the Statements sector. (The central work from that previous booth currently hangs in the Met Breuer.) Further sales included Barkley L. Hendricks’s The Twins (1977) for $450,000 and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Peregrine (2016) for $100,000. Shainman, who has been a leader among those to bring artists of the African diaspora into the mainstream in New York, said he was most excited by the opportunity to “introduce new artists who have never been part of this conversation before. We’re about education, really.”
Sales were steady across the fair’s second floor, punctuated by a $1.8 million Rudolf Stingel sold from Massimo De Carlo’s stand. The dealer also sold a Matthew Monahan for $60,000 and sold out of their presentation of works by Günther FörgLehmann Maupin sold Teresita Fernández’s ceramic wall work Fire (America) 2 (2016) for between $400,000–500,0000, Tracey Emin’s Feeling Sexy and Beautiful (2015) embroidery for £150,000–200,000 (and the artist’s installation in Unlimited, co-presented with White Cube and Xavier Hufkens, for an undisclosed price), and Nicholas Hlobo’s Idabi (2016) for $80,000–120,000, among others.

Installation view of work by Tracey Emin, co-presented by Xavier Hufkens, Lehmann Maupin, and White Cube, at Art Basel Unlimited, 2016. Photo by Benjamin Westoby for Artsy.
Goodman Gallery sold Shadow Figure Bronzes (full set) (2016) and Patrice Lumumba (2016) by William Kentridge for $320,000 and $120,000, respectively. The booth is one piece of a three-part show called “New Revolutions” also taking place in the gallery’s Capetown and Johannesburg spaces to celebrate its 50th anniversary. They additionally sold Kudzanai Chiurai’s painting Untitled (Office for the Enregisterment of Slaves) (2016; $30,000), Walter Oltmann’s imposing aluminum wire sculpture, Caterpillar Suit IV (2016; €25,000), and Tracey Rose’s photograph Lucie’s Fur Version 1:1:1 – L’Annunciazione – Mme. OEUF! (2003; €15,000), among others.

The 20 Best Booths at Art Basel
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Mexico City’s Galería OMR placed all but two of the works from their standout booth of Pia Camil for €15,000 apiece. For the second year in a row, they completely changed over their booth to a new presentation for Art Basel’s public days. This year it features pieces by Jose DávilaAtelier van LieshoutCandida Höfer, and the collective Troika, among others. Meanwhile Dusseldorf’s Sies + Höke did best with their younger artists, including FORT’s Outsider (2016) which sold for €14,500 and two paintings by Henning Strassburger for that went for €18,000. Both galleries were among a contingent of dealers who were anticipating high attendance over the weekend from collectors in Zürich and elsewhere across Switzerland and Germany to help round out the week.
The jury is still out as to when the art market might shake off its conservative bent. The consensus remains that it will not—and maybe should not—accelerate back to the pace at which it was recently traveling anytime soon. Things would likely improve somewhat—both in the macro environment and in the art market—if populist politics don’t win out in their effort to see Britain and the U.S. adopt isolationist policies. But global growth is forecast to remain sluggish for at least the next year, possibly longer.

—Alexander Forbes
Explore Art Basel 2016 on Artsy.

Reader’s Diary: Man Ray’s ‘Writings on Art’


Reader’s Diary: Man Ray’s ‘Writings on Art’

Jennifer Mundy acknowledges in her Preface to Man Ray’s Writings on Art that, compared to his friends Duchamp and Picabia, he has come to be seen as something of a lightweight. And so he may be. But would one really have it otherwise? Although he could become bitter reflecting that even his friends were probably thinking, “Great photographer, lousy painter,” his lightness is his charm, and despite his considerable output, he often succeeded in his ambition to produce “an effortless smile that illumines the world, and […] an impression of tremendous production with an hour’s work a day.” This compendium, a worthy companion to his 1963 Self Portrait, is a gathering of notes, letters, replies to questionnaires, and other mostly informal or ephemeral writings, with just a few “finished” statements or essays. Most substantial is the “Hollywood Album,” a sort of diary of the mind he kept in the 1940s, a collection of epigrams and musings that would have made a great book in itself had he ever bothered to give it a final form. But would he even have wanted to read it, had it been written by someone else? In 1931, in Paris, he’d said, “I only read books sent to me, books by my friends […] I always want to stay a bit gauche, with something of the feel of a child or a beginner.” This volume, heavy rather than light, edited with the spirit of seriousness, might be a bit too much of a good thing — but better too much than too little. One can learn much from it — for instance, “to think that the painting you came to see was perhaps already expecting you,—that this painting which you came to see, which you thought had been painted for you to look at had in reality been painted to do most of the looking.” But here’s a puzzle: Why the long useless glosses after each text, recapping what one has just read? And as for useless annotation, there’s the complaint to be lodged against most such scholarly efforts: What’s the point of informing the reader, when the author mentions Schopenhauer, for instance, that his first name was Arthur and his dates were 1786-1860? If the note has no substantive content, dear editors, please omit it! This book could have been a hundred pages shorter, half a pound lighter, and ten dollars cheaper, retaining all of Man Ray’s words and just the necessary minimum of the editor’s.
Man Ray: Writings on Art, ed. by Jennifer Mundy (2016) is published by The Getty Research Institute and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.