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.