by Rebecca Pavitt
Conservator, Pacific Conservators
September 2001 - October 2001
Conservator's Corner - Inherent Vice (2001), Before Treatment
Those darned artists! Always using weird materials in strange ways. This is, of course, nothing new. The Last Supper was in need of conservation just a few years after it was finished, and has been causing trouble ever since. We call this inbuilt tendency to self destruct "inherent vice".
This article is about a more recent artistic experiment, Michael Markham's "Brand Study 27" completed in 1976. Scorched paper stencils are attached to a paper support with an unknown adhesive, and covered with Mylar plastic. The Mylar is covered with a black Letraset grid, and the edges are held in place with masking tape. When this piece came into my lab in 1999, all of the adhesives had, to some degree, failed. Stencils had slipped out of place, the masking tape was detaching and the plastic grid was barely holding on to the Mylar. Yikes!
Conservator's Corner - Inherent Vice (2001), After Treatment
Reattachment of the masking tape and Letraset using stable adhesives was reasonably straight forward - this is the kind of fussy work conservators love. Trying to decide where the detached stencils were supposed to go was, however, definitely a detective challenge! I did speak to the artist, but could not locate a "before damage" photograph of the artwork. Fortunately, most of the scorching was done in situ, so I could usually match the stencil parts to the burnt shadows on the underlying paper support. All of adhesives used to repair the artwork are reversible, so the stencil positions can be changed if need be. There are two morals for artists in this story: make well educated choices about the materials you use, and always include a photograph of your artwork with the invoice.
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© Rebecca Pavitt