conservation

Public Art in Downtown Chicago

Since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, building a better city has been a top priority for Chicagoans. Celebrated architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan flocked here to build the city that we know today. Alongside architecture, public art has been a fixture of Chicago aesthetics for decades. The city’s public art includes some exemplary pieces of modernist art. Here are the stories behind four sculptures that define public art in downtown Chicago.

THE PICASSO

Designed by Pablo Picasso in 1967, this piece is technically unnamed, but is colloquially referred to as “the Picasso.” It was one of the first public sculptures to be placed downtown and sits in Daley Plaza inside the Loop. Commissioned by the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center, Picasso refused the payment for the piece, instead creating the sculpture as a gift to the city of Chicago. The Picasso looks a bit like a jungle gym and it is not uncommon to see visitors of the plaza climbing on and around the sculpture.

ALEXANDER CALDER’S FLAMINGO

Head a few blocks south in the Loop and you will find yourself dwarfed by the Flamingo, a large vermillion abstract sculpture sitting in the Federal Plaza. Alexander Calder designed this sculpture in 1974, clocking in at an epic weight of 50 tons. Calder wanted his sculpture to wind and arch, a curving pop of color surrounded by monumental steel buildings. Flamingo was the first sculpture to be unveiled under the Percent for Art program—a program which administers a percentage of the city budget to public art. 

Left: Pablo Picasso, Untitled, 1967. Right: Alexander Calder,  Flamingo , 1974.

Left: Pablo Picasso, Untitled, 1967. Right: Alexander Calder, Flamingo, 1974.


JOAN MIRO’S CHICAGO

Down the street from Picasso’s sculpture is a work by contemporary master Joan Miró, fittingly titled Chicago. This piece was unveiled in Brunswick Plaza by Chicago’s first female mayor Jane Byrne in 1981. Miró’s sculpture is a 40-foot statue of a woman tucked between two skyscrapers. It is a mixed media sculpture—steel, wire mesh, concrete, bronze and ceramic tile produce Chicago.


ANISH KAPOOR’S CLOUD GATE

 Known to all Chicagoans and visitors as “The Bean,” this sculptural feat is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the whole city. Contrary to popular belief, the actual name of Anish Kapoor’s sculpture is not The Bean—it’s Cloud Gate. Kapoor’s design was based on liquid mercury and consists of 168 stainless steel plates welded together. The highly polished structure is a mirror to Millennium Park and the buildings that surround it. The bean-shape bends and curves giving viewers a perfect photo opportunity as the reflections are distorted. The sculpture was the product of a design competition and debuted in 2004.

Left: Joan Miró,  Chicago , 1981. Right: Anish Kapoor,  Cloud Gate , 2004.

Left: Joan Miró, Chicago, 1981. Right: Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004.

Chicago is known for its public art, from sculptures to murals to interactive pieces in parks. Public art is meant to be enjoyed by the people and be accessible to all. Sometimes that accessibility leads to rare acts of vandalism. Just last week, Cloud Gate was tagged with spray paint. According to the Chicago Tribune, workers were able to remove the graffiti quickly and restore Chicago’s iconic sculpture.

In our work as art consultants, we have worked on a variety of projects involving public art or conservation. We have coordinated the moving and storage of large-scale outdoor sculptures. We also work with talented conservators to restore artwork when accidents happen. Helping companies find, install, and protect art for the enjoyment of their employees, customers, and the public is one of our chief joys as a company.

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Conserving A Family Heirloom

A portion of the damaged frame

A portion of the damaged frame

While the majority of our clients are corporate entities with large collections, we also collaborate with a select group of private clients to assist with their personal art collections. A recent connection from a previous project reached out to us to discuss a number of updates needed for their artwork. After a few conversations, we met with the client in their home to reappraise their collection and look into potential acquisition options.

While reviewing the artwork, we were immediately drawn to a painting in the living room that looked like it had a story behind it. Hanging above the fireplace mantel, this traditional oil painting depicted a lively scene with a mother and child, who seemed to be dancing in a kitchen. An impressive, ornate frame that expanded out from the canvas encompassed the painting. The artwork, while stunning, seemed to have suffered a bit from age and had a dim surface over the composition. The frame, too, was a bit worse for wear with one of the intricate ornaments snapped off and sitting next to the painting. The frame’s gold foil seemed a bit dull and chipped.

Our client told us that the painting was a family heirloom, collected by his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States at 13 years old. A beautiful work of art that was clearly much beloved, we were quick to suggest that conservation help enliven the painting again. Painting restoration is a great option for protecting an artwork over time. You can read more about artwork restoration and conservation here.

The Conservation Process

The newly conserved painting

The newly conserved painting

We were delighted to bring the painting and frame to a local and well-established conservation firm. A family business, it seemed especially fitting for revitalizing a family heirloom. The skilled conservator first stabilized areas where the paint had cracked. The surface of the painting was then cleaned, removing dust as well as an older layer of varnish. A few small areas were retouched with paint specifically formulated for restoration efforts. Once this phase was complete, a thin layer of archival, reversible varnish was applied to the surface of the painting. This specific type includes a layer of UV protection, which helps to preserve the colors in the artwork over time. Reapplication of varnish enhances the details of a painting, illuminating delicate brushwork and subtle changes in color. This process can make artwork look brand new again.

The frame was repaired as well. The conservator was able to reattach the broken ornamentation and reapply the gold pigment. By the time the work was complete, the artwork looked like it had traveled back in time. After reinstalling it back above the mantle, the client was able to enjoy his artwork and connection to his family’s history.  

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Art Conservation

National Portrait Gallery, London

National Portrait Gallery, London

While we absolutely hate to see it, damaged artwork it is a reality that we encounter from time to time. Whether it is a torn painting, a broken frame, or a dusty dirty textile, artwork can be greatly susceptible to damage if not properly protected, stored or shipped (check out our recommendations for treating your objects with care here). Luckily, we have relationships with top level art conservators that help our clients navigate these situations. 

What is the purpose of art conservation?

Art and object conservation refers to the scientific practice and profession of preserving artwork and artifacts from deterioration and repairing damage that has occurred. The primary aim of art conservation is to stabilize the work from further damage while retaining the maximum amount of original material, and secondary is to improve the appearance of the work of art. Art conservators use precise techniques to clean, repair, reassemble and at times restore works of art that have been damaged from time, environment stresses or accidents. Conservators also employ techniques for preventative conservation and scientific technology such as x-ray imaging to study artwork. 

What is the difference between conservation, restoration and preservation? 

The Art Conservator's Alliance explains these terms in detail:

"Art conservation includes principles and practices of technical examination, documentation, and treatment for objects of material culture. The intention of art conservation is to improve the condition of an artifact by stabilizing physical condition problems and addressing surface disfigurement arising from deterioration and/or damage. In doing so, the art conservator strives to retain as much original material as possible and to employ the best quality materials and the most carefully considered methods available."

"At times a conservation treatment also requires restoration, which is defined as the preparation and incorporation of replacement parts and surface finishes (i.e. 'compensation for losses') to allow proper visual interpretation of an art object and to recapture an acceptable esthetic appearance..."

"Another often-used term is preservation, which encompasses all of the varied activities involved in preventing damage and reducing the rate of deterioration for art objects, collections, and structures."

http://www.artconservatorsalliance.com/what_is.html

Want to learn more?

Here is a great link to a glossary of conservation terms compiled by the Smithsonian Institute:  https://www.si.edu/mci/english/learn_more/taking_care/painting_glossary.html

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Five Takeaways From a Decade in Art Consulting

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Over the past 10 years, I have managed art collections for a diverse group of clients, ranging from large, international banks and law firms, to manufacturing and industrial companies, to small family businesses and private residences. Naturally, every one of these clients has a different method of operating and a different process for building an art collection. Some collections are committee-managed, some are executive-managed, and all are influenced by unique culture and goals. Despite the differences I've encountered, there are five central points to keep in mind while navigating the world of art collecting.  

Quality Comes in Many Styles

In working with a variety of clients, you will encounter not only a wide range of art collection goals, but also many styles of aesthetic preferences. Some clients are interested in historic maps and prints, some want a collection that reflects their company's core values, some want to use their proprietary archival material, and some want cutting-edge contemporary artwork. The good news is that the art world is large enough to account for all of these avenues. While exposing clients to the breadth of styles available is an important part of educating, our job as advisers isn't to dictate a specific taste or style, but to find the highest level of quality within the goals developed by our clients. 

Looking is Better than Talking

Communicating about art can be a challenge. Even within the academic art world, words can be interpreted to mean different things to different people. "Contemporary," "Abstract," or "Traditional" are descriptions we often encounter when speaking with clients about their preferences, and they usually mean something very specific yet different to each person. The best way to avoid confusion and effectively understand what your client is communicating? Use visual examples. Talk about specific parts of actual pieces of art, use descriptive words in conjunction with examples to create a vocabulary you both feel comfortable with. You can read more about our "tastemaker" approach to developing projects here.

Get Creative with Sources

Being an independent art advisory allows us to get creative in our search for the perfect piece of art to add to our client's collection. We are able to pursue whatever source will most successfully address the art collection needs of our clients. While I love working with galleries, auctions and art fairs, and print houses, I also love finding hidden gems from other sources off the beaten path.  

Know When to Become an Expert...and When to Find the Experts

Part of providing the highest level of advice to a client is deeply understanding their collection interests. The only way to do this is to continually educate yourself. The art world is an incredibly diverse and deep pool, and one of the joys of being a consultant is the ability to delve into that diversity to connect our clients with art, artifacts, and specific services that meet their needs. For a client specializing in aerospace technology, we dove into the history of aviation and learned to identify specific aircraft. For a client who loved the style of a particular architect, we researched many motifs in various buildings by that architect to understand and identify significant artifacts and source them. Learn as much as you can.

However, we can't be experts in every aspect of art collecting services. It is imperative to find people who have spent their life's work mastering their craft and connect them to your client's needs. Building a wide network of vendors and colleagues extends the reach of your advisory.  If we have a client that needs conservation of a historic painting, professional rigging of a large sculpture, or custom archival framing of a delicate work on paper, we rely on our community of experts to guide us through the process.

Get Out There!

The art world is constantly in motion, and by staying abreast of the trends, sales, styles, and artists, you can provide your clients with the widest range of options and the most knowledgeable recommendations. The best way to accomplish this is to go out and see the artwork in person (the best way to really experience a work of art), engage the community, meet artists and visit their studios to learn about their process, and continually explore what is being presented in galleries and sales. There is always something new to experience. 

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