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News Student Blog: Museum of Modern Art

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​WUDPAC Class of 2018 Fellow Diana Hartman using a low-suction HEPA vacuum and a brush to clean the taxidermy eagle mounted in a mix-media work by Robert Rauschenberg entitled Canyon. (Image courtesy MoMA and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.)

After a summer living at home in Dallas and working at the Dallas Museum of Art assisting with the treatment of seven large murals made by painter and photographer Edward Steichen, I started my graduate internship at the David Booth Conservation Department at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), under the supervision of painting conservators Anny Aviram and Michael Duffy.

Growing up in a small town in Texas, my sisters and I would study the paintings in MoMA’s permanent collection by flipping through stacks of art history books we hunted for at the half-priced book store or picked up at the library. Luckily, we had an amazing art history teacher in high school and his introduction of these important artworks opened up a bright window from our small town. These early art history classes, especially the introduction to modern and contemporary art, filled me with the drive that ultimately led to my internship at MoMA.

As an intern, one of my ongoing duties is to perform regular maintenance of the paintings on display in the museum’s galleries. On early mornings, before the museum is open to the public, I go through the galleries to check on the paintings and dust their surfaces and frames as needed. Regular maintenance including dusting, vacuuming, and condition checking is extremely important for modern and contemporary paintings that are often unvarnished, unglazed, and made out of soft films such as acrylic paint and oozing oil paint. These quiet mornings have become incredibly important to my familiarity with the paintings in MoMA’s collection because I get to closely examine surfaces and explore unique techniques and materials used by different artists. It’s hard to believe that I now get to spend so much time with the paintings I had fallen in love with so long ago.

​Left: John Kane Self Portrait 1929 before treatment. Right: During treatment, inpainting out cracks. (Images courtesy MoMA.)

During my time at MoMA I have completed many different types of treatments. One painting that I especially enjoyed treating was Self Portrait by John Kane (1860-1934). John Kane is celebrated as the first American folk painter to be recognized by a museum during his lifetime. Born in West Calder, Scotland, Kane moved to the Pittsburgh area when he was nineteen years old. Due to extreme poverty and the death of his father, Kane only made it through the third grade. He spent his life working hard labor and was known to move from job to job looking for the highest possible wage. He worked in the shale and coal mines, steel mills, and took on all kinds of factory work.

In 1928, at the age of sixty-seven, Kane submitted a painting to the Carnegie Institute’s Annual International Exhibition of Paintings and was unexpectedly accepted. Kane was harassed by the press and other artists claiming he was a fraud for sometimes using old photographs as painting supports. Nevertheless, his popularity continued to grow leading to MoMA acquiring Self Portrait in 1939, only five years after Kane’s death.

​Detail of John Kane's Self Portrait, before (left) and during (right) treatment. (Images courtesy MoMA.)

I was asked to treat Self Portrait in preparation for the National Gallery of Art (D.C.) exhibition Outliers and American Vanguard Art (January 28- May 13, 2018). Although the painting was in stable condition, much of the surface was disfigured by drying cracks. Additionally, some of these cracks had old and discolored retouching. Due to a limiting time-frame of two weeks, my treatment would only involve toning down the cracks using a reversible medium so that viewers could appreciate the painting without being distracted by the extreme amount of cracking. I had to find the right balance of only retouching enough to make the cracks less disfiguring but not overwork any one area too much.

​In order to avoid disrupting surface coatings, I decided to use a water-based inpainting system. After trying gouache and watercolors, which were too matte, I tried GOLDEN QoR colors. QoR colors use Aquazol (Poly[2-ethyl-2-oxazoline]) as the binder making them soluble in a wide range of solvents, including water. They impart a nice level of gloss and transparency, making them a good choice for this project.

In addition to being a very satisfying treatment to complete, I was happy to work on a painting made by a self taught artist. I am proud to work in an institution that includes and celebrates artists from different backgrounds and look forward to continuing my internship at MoMA.

— Diana Hartman, WUDPAC Class of 2018

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2018 Fellow Diana Hartman shares her experience working with conservation staff at the Museum of Modern Art, and interacting with paintings by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg and John Kane.

​In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2018 Fellow Diana Hartman shares her experience working with conservation staff at the Museum of Modern Art, and interacting with paintings by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg and John Kane.

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