MINNEAPOLIS - Restoring artworks is generally an unsexy topic for museum fans. Institutions acquiring or showing brand new pieces gets more of our attention.
But museums are constantly working behind the scenes to preserve what they already have – and they have to be on top of it, because even the most hardy-looking artworks are quite vulnerable.
Last year I made a memorable visit to the Stone Hill Center at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which houses the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC). This is New England’s most sophisticated art-help lab, housed in a gorgeous Tadao Ando building.
I watched as an expert restored a painting by the 19th-century master William-Adolphe Bouguereau, and it was fascinating to see him work his magic on an old painting. A plump maiden’s right buttock went from dark and lacquered-looking to bright, fleshy and ineffably human before my eyes.
Max Beckmann’s triptych Blind Man’s Buff.
Recently news came of a restoration of a piece by one of my favorite artists: Max Beckmann. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has had Blind Man’s Buff, a major triptych by the German painter, in its collection since 1955. It’s been a centerpiece of their holdings, and it needed to be shored up – cracks and flaking can befall the best of us. Luckily the museum houses the Midwest Art Conservation Center (a similar relationship as that between the Clark and the WACC).
Detail of the left edge of Max Beckmann’s Blind Man’s Buff.
As I recounted here, Beckmann led a dramatic life indeed, much of it in exile. Blind Man’s Buff was painted by candlelight in the winter of 1944-45, while the artist was in exile in Amsterdam and severely lacking heat and nourishment. The composition, the only one of Beckmann’s famed triptych’s in which all the panels depict the same scene, has his inimitable blend of the mythological and the modern. Club goers consort with mythological gods, and there is deeper symbolism aplenty for those who take the time to parse his crowded composition, which takes its inspiration from the Northern Gothic masters of old.
Detail of the right edge of Max Beckmann’s Blind Man’s Buff.
The painting is the subject of an exhibition, “Restoring a Masterwork III: Blind Man’s Buff,” on view until March 1. To my ears this is as good a reason as any to visit snowy Minneapolis in the dead of winter.