Return of “Woman”

 
Willem de Kooning, "Woman", 1949-1950

Willem de Kooning, "Woman", 1949-1950, oil on canvas, Lena Kernodle McDuffie memorial purchase, 1954.

As many of you may know, WAM recently loaned Woman by Willem de Kooning (1949-1950, oil on canvas) to the Musem of Modern Art’s blockbuster exhibition de Kooning: A Retrospective (September 18, 2011–January 9, 2012). As is common among many museums lending artworks to exhibitions at other institutions, one condition of this loan was that a courier must accompany the artwork to and from the MoMA. The role of a courier is to ensure that an artwork travels safely to its destination, to monitor the unpacking and installation of the work, and to closely inspect the work’s condition to make sure that it has not been affected by the rigors of travel.  The Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums even has a “Code of Practice for Couriering Museum Objects.” I was pleased to serve as the courier for the return of the work but also a bit nervous, knowing the responsibilities it entailed. My worries manifested in concerns of slipping on an icy New York sidewalk and rendering myself unable to perform my courier duties.

Arrangements were made for me to fly to New York and report to MoMA following the close of the exhibition. After providing the proper credentials, I was escorted by the exhibition’s registrar into the gallery where Woman hung, surrounded by other works from de Kooning’s second Woman series. Our Woman more than held her own amongst the other ‘gals’. Crates were staged along the floor and I quickly recognized the crate for our painting standing nearby.  A few other couriers were working in various areas of the gallery and overseeing their works being packed. I was assigned to one of the painting conservators working on the exhibition who, coincidentally, had examined Woman upon her arrival with Registrar Heather Moore back in August.

Willem de Kooning with WAM "Woman"

Photo: Harry Bowden, January 1950; photo of Willem de Kooning with WAM's "Woman" painting.

Together we closely examined the work, referencing the condition report created prior to the painting’s departure from the Weatherspoon. A condition report is a document containing images and detailed notes about the condition of a work (i.e. cracks in paint, marks, abrasions, etc.). After examining the painting and the frame we jointly concluded that there had been no changes to the condition of the work since its arrival at MoMA. I was happy to learn from the conservator that Woman was in good condition in relation to other de Kooning works from this time period.  Once we were finished with the condition report a team of two preparators (museum professionals whose duties include handling and installing artwork) packed the work into its crate while I observed. The crate was custom designed by a fine arts crater to protect the work during travel. After Woman was packed securely in the crate I reviewed the schedule and arrangements with the MoMA staff for the next leg of Woman’s journey via fine arts shipper.

Myra Scott at MoMA

In front of images demonstrating the stages of the artist’s work in de Kooning: A Retrospective

I reported back to the MoMA the next day to observe the crate being moved by the MoMA preparators through the museum and onto the fine art shipper’s awaiting vehicle. Trucks and vans used in fine arts shipping are typically outfitted with environmental controls (including temperature and humidity regulation), air ride and other security measures and are manned by two drivers. After the crate was loaded, strapped into place, and the doors to the vehicle secured, locked, and alarmed, I joined the two drivers as we set forth on our way back south.

Condition Report

My folder of paperwork with the condition report

The eleven hour ride home was fortunately fairly uneventful except for some very heavy rain in Virginia. As we drew closer to Greensboro I was in contact with WAM staff on the other end who were patiently awaiting our arrival. The painting was quickly and carefully offloaded and moved into our secure storage, where it remained crated for at least 24 hours to allow it to acclimatize. This is done so the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air and the microclimate existing in the crate slowly and gradually adjust so as not to cause any drastic changes that would cause damage to a work (i.e. a canvas expanding and contracting due to severe humidity changes). After the acclimatization period our preparators unpacked the work and it was examined again using the condition report. We were pleased and relieved to find that Woman had travelled safely to and from New York.

Traffic Greensboro

View of rainy highway en route to North Carolina.

You’ll have a chance to welcome Woman home when she goes on view in Highlights of the Permanent Collection this fall.

Posted by Myra Scott, Assistant Registrar, Weatherspoon Art Museum

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Collection Mystery Drawing…Who is the Artist?

 
WAM Collection mystery drawing...who is the artist?

WAM Collection mystery drawing...who is the artist?

Stieg Larsson’s investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist definitely has talents I don’t possess.  For the last two weeks I have been trying intermittently to determine who drew this portrait.  It came to us as part of the Etta and Claribel Cone collection in 1950 and has been attributed to Mersyes based on the inscription. Unfortunately no such artist exists. Is the inscription a signature or a title? The drawing is in the style of Jacques Villon, whose work the Cones collected and the Weatherspoon owns, but he typically signed his work. Likewise the inscription is not in the style of Jean Metzinger, a fellow cubist. The drawing is adhered to a mat that has the words “Safsa (Trinini)” inscribed on it (by whom?) as well as the date 1926. The face looks Algerian or Moroccan and I’ve learned that there is a place in Algeria called Safsaf, but what does Trinini mean? The only other clue is the word Tefúgahe (?) inscribed in pencil on the drawing’s upper right corner. I’m not giving up yet, but I hope some Lisbeth Salander will read this post and provide some much needed help.

UPDATE:

Mystery Solved!!

This was a good week for art sleuths out there, and thus for WAM.  While visiting the Museum for another project, paper conservator Jane Sugarman looked at the mystery drawing and figured out that the inscription did not read “Trinini,” but rather the country Tunisia. From that, I was able to decipher part of the upper right inscription to read “Gafsa.”  The town of Gafsa, also spelled Qafsah, has been around since Roman times when it was known as Capsa.

The next day, I got a post from the Ackland Art Museum’s Chief Curator, Peter Nisbet, who identified the signature as “Medgyes.” Better known as a furniture and stage designer than as an artist, Ladislas Medgyes was born in Hungary but worked in New York from the 1920s until his death sometime in the late 1940s.

Many, many thanks to both Jane and Peter for helping identify this wonderful drawing and for confirming that a career in the visual arts is never dull.

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Artist Helen Frankenthaler

 
Artist Helen Frankenthaler

"Snow Pines" by Helen Frankenthaler, from the Weatherspoon's collection; the artist at work in her studio.

During the bustle of the holidays, it’s easy to lose track of important news events. The death of pioneering post-World War II artist, Helen Frankenthaler on December 27 may have been such an event, but her achievements deserve to be acknowledged.

Beginning in 1952 Frankenthaler took abstract art in a new direction by pouring thinned paint directly onto unprimed canvases.  Applauded for its lyricism and luminous color, Frankenthaler’s work not only gave rise to the Color Field movement, but also has remained vital throughout the years.

Frankenthaler was equally talented as a printmaker, and the Weatherspoon is privileged to own a 34-color Ukiyo-e style woodcut entitled Snow Pines, 2004.  The art world definitely has lost a significant talent.

Image:  Helen Frankenthaler, Snow Pines, 2004, 34-color Ukiyo-e style woodcut, Ed. 6 out of 65, 37 1/2 x 26 in. Museum purchase with funds from the Weatherspoon Art Museum Acquisition Endowment, the Louise D. and Herbert S. Falk Acquisition Endowment, the Lynn Richardson Prickett Acquisition Endowment, the Weatherspoon Guild Acquisition Endowment, and a bequest by Hubert Humphrey, 2011.

Read about this new WAM acquisition in our Winter newsletter on page 9 here.

Wikipedia article about Frankenthaler.

More photos of Helen and her work on the blog Habitually Chic.

And more on the site TheArtStory.org.

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Gifts that are Making our Holiday Brighter

 

The Weatherspoon recently received grants from two of our city’s longstanding philanthropic leaders:

The Cemala Foundation and Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation. Inc.  Both of these groups are mainstays in supporting nonprofit organizations in our community. One can only guess the scope—and effect—of their countless contributions over the years.

In the Weatherspoon’s case, their gifts are helping to address the sizable budget reductions we’ve experienced this year.  The Cemala Foundation’s gift will help support the crucial staff position of Associate Curator of Education and some of her programs. Terri Dowell-Dennis works with the Guilford County Schools, conducts teacher workshops, organizes our biannual Community Days, offers tours to school and community groups, and dozens of other things to keep our education program vibrant and meaningful.

Tannenbaum-Sternberger has offered a challenge grant to support our lively exhibition and program schedule.  For every 2 dollars that we raise, they will provide 1 dollar, up to $20,000.

You can help us meet our match by contributing online or by calling 336-334-5770

We’re truly grateful to both foundations.

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The Final 3

 
Kate Gilmore's "Wall Bearer"

"Wall Bearer" performers

Time has just flown by and now we are down to the final three live performances of Kate Gilmore‘s Wall Bearer at the Weatherspoon.  I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to the artist and all of the performers  of this work, who have been so amazing to get to know.

Here’s a picture of the whole group!  Back row (left to right): Jennifer Schenck, Heather Flow, Rebecca Henderson, Mary Piepmeier, Kate Gilmore, Valerie Osipova, and Diana Dau. Front row (left to right): Tiffany Littlejohn, Claire Wardlaw, Melanie Harris, Katie Tyler, Kim Yancey, Gracelee Lawrence, and Arleen Westmoreland.

The dates and times for the final performances of Wall Bearer are:

Thursday, December 1, 3:30-6:30 pm

Saturday, December 3, 2-5 pm

Saturday, December 10, 2-5 pm

We are also excited to see a review of Persona: A Body in Parts by Tom Patterson in the Winston Salem Journal.

- posted by the exhibition’s Curator, Xandra Eden

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