Two In­s­tal­la­tions by Nan­cy Graves

Thanks to the do­na­tions by Peter and Irene Lud­wig, the Mu­se­um Lud­wig has a con­vo­lute of works by Nan­cy Graves in its col­lec­tion: two paint­ings, two in­s­tal­la­tions, eigh­teen works on pa­per, and two films by the artist. The in­s­tal­la­tions haven't been shown in the mu­se­um for quite some time.

In pre­pa­ra­tion for the ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion by Nan­cy Graves at the Lud­wig Fo­rum Aachen, ex­ten­sive conser­va­tion mea­sures were ne­ces­sary. The most im­por­tant pro­ject is that deal­ing with the in­s­tal­la­tions Sha­man (1970) and Cerdi­wen, out of Fos­sils (1969/77) from the col­lec­tion of the Mu­se­um Lud­wig in Cologne. Both are key works in the oeu­vre of Nan­cy Graves.

For the conser­va­tion of the works, Kathrin Kessler, the Mu­se­um Lud­wig’s head of Conser­va­tion, has as­sem­bled a team of conser­va­tors in­clud­ing Ver­e­na Pan­ter, Kas­ka Kmiotek and Anke Fre­und. In close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dr. Bar­bara En­gel­bach, cu­ra­tor of Con­tem­po­rary Art, Pho­tog­ra­phy, and Me­dia Art at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig, the team ex­ten­sive­ly re­searched lit­erary sources, an­a­lyzed the in­di­vi­d­u­al parts of each work, and draft­ed a conser­va­tion con­cept.

Cerid­wen, out of Fos­sils is the first bronze work by Nan­cy Graves. As in an arche­o­log­i­cal site, the 22 parts that pre­tend to be di­nosaur-skele­ton fos­sils are as­sem­bled to­gether. The orig­i­nal ver­sion from 1969, which was made of plas­ter and paint, was cast in bronze in 1977, up­on the ad­vice of Peter Lud­wig. Since the sculp­ture has been pre­sent­ed out­doors for a long time, the “bones” are now cov­ered by dirt and dust and part­ly cor­rod­ed. Af­ter a com­plex me­chan­i­cal clean­ing pro­cess and the ap­pli­ca­tion of a pro­tec­tive coat­ing su­per­vised by Anke Fre­und, the sculp­ture will be pre­sent­ed to the public for the first time again in Oc­to­ber 2013.

Much more com­plex and com­pre­hen­sive were the conser­va­tion pro­ce­dures on the work Sha­man, which was one of the main works ex­hibit­ed at doc­u­men­ta 5. Ten ab­s­tract, co­coon-shaped, round, or ob­long bodies hang from the ceil­ing, equipped with nu­mer­ous de­tailed and del­i­cate el­e­ments, over a sur­face of near­ly­five square me­ters. The work’s over­all im­pres­sion re­calls ri­t­u­al dances and fig­ures of prim­i­tive peo­ple. Un­ex­pect­ed ob­jects, such as a ra­zor­blade, which on­ly was dis­cov­ered on close ex­am­i­na­tion by a conser­va­tor, dis­rupt the ini­tial im­pres­sion that the artist on­ly worked with na­t­u­ral ma­te­rial. Fol­low­ing this tech­nique of ir­ri­ta­tion for which Nan­cy Graves is known, the feathers, bones, and twigs al­so turn out to be ar­ti­facts. They were ar­ti­fi­cial­ly cre­at­ed out of tex­tile, plas­ter, foil, wax, wire, or plas­tic tubes and then paint­ed in earthen tones of greens and blacks. What from a dis­tance ap­pears to be the branch of a tree is ac­tu­al­ly made from me­t­al wire cov­ered with cloth and plas­ter. This cor­re­sponds to the artist’s in­ten­tion, which unites “trompe l’oeil” and con­cep­tu­al-ab­s­tract art.

The com­plex­i­ty and the va­ri­e­ty of ma­te­rials used in the ob­ject and its re­lat­ed mul­ti-facett­ed pic­tures of da­m­age, which ranges from bro­ken plas­ter bones and cor­rod­ed, ex­posed wire to a dist­inc­tive craque­lure have con­front­ed the conser­va­tion team with a spe­cial chal­lenge.