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June 3 , 2005
Volume 42, No. 11


The art of conservation
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The University of Iowa

The University of Iowa

The art of conservation

Workers take belts off a
Christo meets Rodin? No, it was actually the return of Rodin’s Jean de Fiennes, Clothed (from The Burghers of Calais), 1889, cast 1987. The sculpture was lowered into place after a six-week absence during which its surface was restored by a conservator in Chicago. Roger Machin (right), of Methods and Materials in Chicago, delivered the artwork, wrapped to protect its newly waxed patina, and helped crane operators lower it into place in front of the College of Law. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Everyone has maintenance issues—those things that are no fun but must be done. You’ve got to change the oil on your car every 3,500 miles, have your furnace serviced each fall, and every few years, you need to wax your Rodin.

That last one may not be on everyone’s “to do” list, but it is on the University’s. Thanks to the Art in State Buildings Act of 1978, along with private donations and purchases by the UI Museum of Art (UIMA), an assortment of significant sculptures dot the University’s landscape.

According to state law, one-half of one percent of the total project cost of a state building is set aside to purchase artwork for that building. At Iowa, the Art on Campus committee, a group of faculty, staff, and community members with interest and/or expertise in art, chooses the pieces, in conjunction with the residents of the new buildings. A recent example is the illuminated sculpture, Iacto, by James Sanborn, that casts shadows of headlines each night on the façade of the Philip D. Adler Journalism and Mass Communication Building—the new home of journalism, The Daily Iowan, and cinema and comparative literature.

“The artwork is selected in much the same way that you choose a Christmas gift for a friend,” says Howard Collinson, the director of the UIMA and a member of the Art on Campus committee. “We want to make sure the art is appropriate for the site and meaningful to the building’s occupants.”

Since 1978, when the Louise Nevelson piece, Voyage, was purchased and installed in the Lindquist Center’s plaza, the University has used Art in State Buildings funds to purchase 18 works of art, according to Pam Trimpe, assistant director of Pentacrest museums and a curator of painting and sculpture at the UIMA for 13 years. As evidence of the University’s building boom, there are currently 18 projects pending.

While the Art in State Buildings Act designates funds for purchasing works of art, none of the money may be used for maintenance or conservation. Appropriateness of materials and location is considered when an artwork is purchased, but eventually, the elements and time take their toll.

“After so many years, conservation issues come up,” Trimpe says. “We’re starting to see wear and tear on pieces.”

UIMA staff are able to care for some artwork in-house, but with budgetary constraints, an increase in the number of outdoor pieces, and the specialized care required by some of them, additional help was needed. In 2004, the Office of Finance and Operations funded an assessment of the University’s outdoor art. A professional conservator prioritized the maintenance needs, and thanks to an anonymous donation through the UI Foundation, four pieces have recently undergone or will be undergoing conservation.

The first to be completed was the bronze sculpture that stands in the south courtyard of the Boyd Law Building, a 1987 cast of Auguste Rodin’s 1889 Jean Fiennes, Clothed (from The Burghers of Calais series). On a blustery day in April, faculty, staff, and students gathered to watch Roger Machin guide crane operators as they lowered the one-ton piece and its base into place. Machin is the owner of Methods and Materials, a company from Chicago that specializes in moving and installing fine art.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Machin came to Iowa City to load the piece in his truck and transport it to conservator Andrezej Dajnowski in Forest Park, Ill. Some of the patina on the law school’s Rodin was worn down to the bronze, a precursor to rust, so Dajnowski recreated the patina in the style of Rodin and protected the piece with a special formula of microcrystalline and polyethylene waxes.

2-3-1-1 by Sol Lewitt, 1994, will be repainted this summer by professional art conservators from Chicago’s Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, Inc. While some pieces of art are removed for maintenance, Lewitt’s piece will be conserved on site, west of the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories. Photo by Valicia Boudry.

Staff members of Dajnowski’s Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, Inc., will be on campus later this summer to repaint the Sol Lewitt sculpture on its site behind the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories. And in July, Machin’s crew will be back in town to reinstall the Nevelson piece at the Lindquist Center. Structural issues beneath the plaza necessitated that Voyage be moved, making it the perfect time to conserve it as well. It’s been at King Auto Repair in Coralville for sandblasting and repainting.

“We worked with Facilities Management to move the piece, and they were phenomenal,” Trimpe says. “It’s a natural fit to combine acquisition of art with its maintenance.” To that end, a member of Facilities Management, along with a member of the Campus Planning Committee, attends Art on Campus meetings.

Although the conservation of these pieces is costly, there is increasing recognition of its importance in making sure the campus puts its best foot forward. Facilities Management will continue its role, and Trimpe says that the ultimate goal is that a professional conservator will come regularly to campus, to wax, repaint, and otherwise appropriately maintain the works.

Thus far, none of the University’s artwork requires an oil change.   

by Linzee Kull McCray




Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright The University of Iowa 2005. All rights reserved.


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