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News Student Blog: Outdoor Sculpture

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​WUDPAC Fellow Claire Taggart inpainting losses to the surface of Barbara Hepworth's Sea Form (Porthmeor) at the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives (photo courtesy of Libby Ireland). Barbara Hepworth, Sea Form (Porthmeor), 1958. ©Tate London 2018.

My interest in the conservation of modern and contemporary art began in the years leading up to graduate school. As a pre-program intern at the Chinati and Judd Foundations, I was consistently challenged by the industrial materials adopted by artist Donald Judd, an omnipresence in Marfa, Texas. With the myriad of treatments and environmental challenges, I relied on the expertise of my supervisors, while also informing myself through available publications on related topics. During this time, I became familiar with the research publications on collection care at Tate. It wasn’t long before I was envisioning an internship placement to supplement my studies once admitted to a graduate program in conservation.  

A few years later, when my WUDPAC advisory committee asked me which museums I had in mind for my third-year internship sites, my request was rooted in a long-held fantasy. However, after concerted emailing, my wonderful supervisors nurtured this notion. With generous assistance provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, as of February 2018, I have been living in London, working with Sculpture and Installation Conservation at Tate.

Tate has long represented the most cutting-edge research in the preservation and conservation of modern materials. Since starting my internship in February, I have been able to participate in projects that will aid in my wider understanding of modern and contemporary art conservation. This placement is an especially exciting opportunity for my third year, as it will enrich both my focus in the conservation of objects, and contribute to my minor area of study in preventive conservation.

Tate is made up of four museums: Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. Since the beginning of my six-month internship program, I have participated in projects at or visited each of these sites. Responsibilities owned by Tate conservators are incredibly varied; I have been involved in the examination, condition reporting and treatment of exciting artworks, preparation for exhibition installation, carrying out regular maintenance, and condition checking new acquisitions. Examples of completed or ongoing treatment projects include the cleaning of Union Black by British artist Chris Ofili, CBE, the analysis and treatment of a 1970s polypropylene chair, and the cleaning and inpainting of two painted metal sculptures by British New Generation artists Isaac Witkin and William Turnbull.

​Left: River Form before hot waxing. Barbara Hepworth, River Form, 1965. ©Tate London 2018.
Right: River Form after hot waxing; Four-Square (Walk Through), Figure for Landscape and Spring pictured throughout the garden. Barbara Hepworth, River Form, 1965; Four-Square (Walk Through), 1966; Figure for Landscape 1959-60; Spring, 1966. ©Tate London 2018.

One of the more remarkable Tate experiences thus far was the weeklong visit to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives. Every spring, the Sculpture Conservation team takes the train to the beautiful seaside town in Cornwall to perform annual maintenance of the indoor and outdoor works at this Tate managed site. The care and research devoted to this estate reminds me of the work in Marfa; the complexity of maintaining an artist’s presence in a small town is a worthwhile challenge. I was honored to be a part of one aspect of this ongoing effort.

Annual maintenance in the lush garden comprises documenting and recording condition changes to the sculptures in the greenhouse, cleaning the metal and stone works, and waxing the bronzes. Plaster works like Sea Form (Porthmeor), which is located in the greenhouse, are monitored for changes and stabilized when necessary. As plaster is sensitive to fluctuations in humidity, discreet consolidation is sometimes carried out. During the visit, my fellow intern, Libby Ireland and I performed this treatment. Following an isolation layer, larger losses to the painted surface were inpainted using watercolors.

Annual treatment of the outdoor works is especially crucial, as the proximity to the sea presents with a harsh, fluctuating environment. Treatment of the bronzes included cleaning with a mild surfactant in water, followed by thorough rinsing. Depending on the patination layer, areas of the bronze were either cold waxed to impart surface protection only, or hot waxed when saturation to the rich brown patina is desired.

In addition to an incredibly productive work week, I also explored the localities of St Ives in the evenings. Connecting with the lovely Tate staff didn’t stop at the end of the work day, as we enjoyed many meals together, and even placed third in a local pub quiz!

As I head into the final stretch here in London, I feel so grateful for the experiences this placement has provided. The projects and the people have made it an incomparable component to my educational experience.

— Claire Taggart, WUDPAC Class of 2018

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2018 Fellow Claire Taggart talks about her internship working with the Sculpture and Installation Conservation staff at Tate museums throughout the United Kingdom.

In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2018 Fellow Claire Taggart talks about her internship working with the Sculpture and Installation Conservation staff at Tate museums throughout the United Kingdom.

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