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News Student Blog: Hamburger Kunsthalle

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​A kinetic object, which requires motion for its interpretation, presents conservation challenges unlike the typical static museum object, protected in its Plexiglas case from dust, light, and human interaction. A kinetic object’s very nature may promote its deterioration, and the goal of conservation becomes the mitigation of risk, rather than the absolute preservation of every original component. It is a difficult balance, to preserve all that one can while accepting that change is inevitable and occasionally an errant screw or motor may need replacement.

After two years of WUDPAC coursework in Delaware, I left for Hamburg, Germany to intern in the modern and contemporary conservation department of the Hamburger Kunsthalle. I had a variety of treatments and experiences here, which included the removal of graffiti from an outdoor sculpture, the treatment of a metal sculpture by a Hamburg artist recently accessioned into the collection, and the participation in a workshop on the treatment of polyurethane foam objects. The experience most new to me, however, was the maintenance of two kinetic works: Rebecca Horn’s Chorus of the Locusts I (1991) and Jeppe Hein’s Moving Bench #2 (2000).

Horn’s work consists of 33 typewriters suspended upside down from the ceiling and a white cane for the blind. A complex system of magnets and motors makes the keys type, resulting in cacophonous noise that can be heard several galleries away, while the white cane moves and taps on the floor below. This work, which has so many moving parts, requires frequent maintenance to tighten or replace screws and nuts, clean greasy elements, and fix or replace motors and fuses. Treatment involves working on ladders from below, with the ever-present threat of hitting your head on these hard metal machines. As with any conservation treatment, diligent documentation is required, and any changes or replacements are carefully noted.

The second kinetic work, by artist Jeppe Hein, is participatory for visitors. Upon sitting on one of these plain-looking benches, the bench will begin to slowly move across the gallery. They are programmed to only travel a certain distance and will stop before reaching a wall or window. Frequent use combined with uneven distribution of weight caused problems to the mechanics. Occasionally the benches went off course, requiring their realignment. Unlike the typewriter work, these benches are powered by batteries, which means weekly charging to keep them running. More traditional conservation treatment was also required, including consolidation, filling, and inpainting of losses at the edges, caused by usage of the artwork.

Furthering my interest in kinetic art, I attended a conference in Milan in July on the subject, where I gained insight into the various approaches to the conservation of kinetic art used around the world. Conservators from New York, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, and elsewhere presented case studies on the conservation of a work which needs to be moving in order to be understood.

The conservation of kinetic art requires a different perspective than the approach one might take for a static museum object. A kinetic work which ceases to move may be considered a relic, no longer representing the intention of the artist, though it may look pristine in appearance. Keeping a work functioning while balancing the need for preservation is a tightrope one must walk in kinetic art conservation.


-- Samantha Owens, WUDPAC Class of 2017

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​In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2017 Fellow Samantha Owens shares her summer months at the Hamburger Kunsthalle and internship experiences with modern and contemporary objects.

​In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2017 Fellow Samantha Owens shares her summer months at the Hamburger Kunsthalle and internship experiences with modern and contemporary objects.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489