Lauren Rabb, Curator
University of Arizona Museum of Art
The session on objects conservation led by Ian Wardropper
and Jack Soultanian at the Met was a terrific treat. This is how it worked:
Mr. Wardropper would first introduce a work from its art
historical angle. For exampple, about the over-life-sized marble Perseus with the Head of Medusa by
Antonio Canova that visually anchors the Petrie Sculpture Court, we learned,
among other interesting things, that it is a second version of the composition,
made on commission; that Canova prepared his work with a full-scale clay model;
that his assistants and pupils did the rough carving but that, as stipulated in
the contract, he personally finished the figure, especially the "important”
parts (e.g. the heads) and most delicate details; and that his delivery
included a second Medusa head, made of plaster, in case a problem would arise
with the heavy marble hanging off the figure’s outstretched arm. (Amazingly,
the plaster head still exists and was there for us to see).
Then Mr. Soultanian would describe the things he has to
consider when beginning the conservation or cleaning of a marble. Regardign Perseus, it was imposrtant to know that
Canova always toned his marbles to a warm, almost ivory shade, perhaps to make
them look more like antiquities. This fact ruled out the use of poultices, the
most effective and simple (?) treatment for removing ingrained dirt from stone,
as they would also have leeched out the intended coloring. Instead, Mr.
Soultanian employed erasers and saliva (did he really say that??), on a job
that took three months to complete.
In this way, alternating between two strands of narrative,
our group walked through the gallery and considered sculptures by different
artists, in different styles, and with different conservation problems and
their solutions. To me – neither a sculpture specialist nor a conservator –
this exercise in seeing a sculpture as both historical artifact and
material object was exciting. Never had the works been so rich.