PRESERVE EVERY PIECE: Conservation of the Joan Miro’ Mural Personnages Oiseaux

PRESERVE EVERY PIECE: Conservation of the Joan Miro’ Mural Personnages Oiseaux


– [Man] There are very few monuments
by Joan Miro in the world. There’s quite a lot of sculpture.
There are very few murals. – [Man] I never put Joan Miro and
Wichita together in my wildest dreams. – The crucial thing to remember about him,
of course, is that he was a farm boy, not a city boy. And, as he grew up in the countryside, that
formed the entire basis of his imagination. – [Woman] The vivid color, the playfulness
of the different motifs. – [Man] It was the images of nature that formed the
substance out of which Miro’s work has always grown. – [Man] I’ve grown to love it over time.
I think it’s a beautiful piece. – Miro himself has never seen more than
12 of the 80 panels put together, and few people have. – It’s a world masterpiece. Miro made 11 murals of monumental scale. – [Woman] This mosaic is unique.
There’s nothing quite like it. – [Woman] It’s the only one that Miro made
of glass and marble, others are ceramic. – You have to maintain a level of focus
when you’re working on this. You need to maintain
work ethic. [laughing] – [Man] I suppose once one comes out
then the others around it all like to come as well. – [Man] Right, it’ll release — several. – [Woman] There is a serious issue with it. [thunder clapping] – And it was showing all kinds of really
fascinating conservation issues. – [Man] You see a couple right
there that are just hanging. – Oh, yeah, really loose. The main one being that it was falling to pieces before our very eyes. -[Woman] For a lot of people who love the arts,
this piece had to be preserved. It was not an option. – I mean, this has never been done before, but, our project was to
save a world masterpiece. – I like the precision of the work, to bring
it back as close as possible to its former self. [orchestral music] – [Woman] The Ulrich Museum of Art on the campus
of Wichita State University opened in 1974. And, Martin Bush was the
Director at the time. – Thank you very much. It’s a happy day for us.
And, I think you’re all anxious to see the mural. – [Woman] So, we have this
ambitious, young Director, who decided that the spare brick facade,
needed a monumental mural. – First was, I was gonna go
after Picasso, but he died. And, then I thought, well, who’s next? I was having coffee in the CAC with
maybe people like John Dreifort and Lucio Arteaga, used to be
in the Math Department. And, I said, “I’m going to contact Miro to
see if I can, um, get him to do a mural. And they said, “Do you know him?”
And I said, “No, but I’m gonna try it.” And so, I’m going to write a letter. And, Gene Saviano, the Spanish Department, is going to translate it for me. And, Lucio was in the Math Department,
said, “Oh, no, no, you can’t do that.” And I said, “Why Lucio?”
He said, “He won’t even answer.” I said, “I don’t understand.”
“He’s Catalan.” “Catalan?”
“I’m Catalan. I will write the letter for you.” And, believe me, Lucio deserves, oh, so much
credit. I can’t tell you. He wrote a beautiful letter. And, we pulled out all the stops, you know,
the airplane crash, farm, what we knew about Miro … apple pie and motherhood, and all these kids
out on the prairie, and, we need help, we need your help. He responded, he agreed to do this. – Martin Bush was able to persuade
a master artist from Europe to design and create a mural for the facade of Wichita
State University building a new art museum, really, for no compensation. That’s another part of the chutzpah
of Martin Bush. – My understanding was that,
of course, he’d let them know in advance, but he basically showed up on Miro’s
front doorstep at Christmas of that year. – I remember saying, “Hey, look, we can use
a painting from 1972, I don’t care, you know, this is the size of the facade… .”
And, “Oh, no, no, I have to do something special.” And, I was convinced
then that he would do it. – And, the end result was the rather immediate creation of “Personnages Oiseaux,” the maquette. It was then shipped to Chartes, France,
where it was fabricated at the Loire Studios. – From the beginning, the mural itself
and its design was non-traditional. They were creating a mural
that’s very, very large, as murals go, and not installing it. They were designing it
and then shipping it to the customer, which is unusual in and of itself. – [Man] It arrived on a hot afternoon,
and so, it must have been August. Amongst the photographs we found is one
where I’m standing there holding the clipboard. So, I was obviously acting as registrar,
checking all those panels in and they came in. – But, I remember it was a very exciting
time for us. It was a fascinating concept that of all the beautiful outdoor art that we had,
this real sort of masterpiece, this sort of keynote piece, was going
to be put on the campus. – [Man] The day of the unveiling, was a beautiful
October day. It was actually Halloween. – Miro did send a telegram, and he said, “My
thanks and gratitude for allowing me to do this.” I think it gives you an idea
of what the man is like. – [Man] You know, folks were interested
and aware that great things were going on here. – Thank you so much for making this day
even more glorious and even more important to all of us by your presence.
Pull it. – [Man] As we pulled the chord to pull the drape
off the mural, it was much heavier than I expected to be, and I’ve looked at a picture recently and
you can see I’m really sort of bracing myself. [applauding] – [Man] My job, I was up on the roof, and I
was on the opposite end of the rope that was being pulled to release the canvas. So, there was a good crowd. And, I think
everyone was really dazzled when that canvas fell. – [Woman] How does your jaw not drop when you’re standing in front of it? – [Elizabeth] It’s an iconic image of our
university to the world. – [Marianne] Our first introduction to
the Miro was back in 1995, when we were asked to do a survey of
the outdoor sculpture collection. And, at that time, we could only look at the
mural from the ground and from the roof as well, and the sides. It was apparent that pieces of glass,
tesserae, were falling out. – We hired this conservation company from
Missouri to come in and go over the whole mural and test for any loose pieces, and to make pieces
to replace the 400 that were missing. – [Marianne] In 1997, we were asked
to actually treat the Miro. One of our jobs was to find all of the
pieces that were loose. So, we spent about a week going over every panel, feeling every tile to see which ones were loose, and if they were
loose, we removed them, and we marked where they
came from on a chart, so we knew exactly where to put them back. We did that in the spring, and then, by fall,
a lot more pieces were falling out. – [Elizabeth] We all knew that there
were issues with the mosaic. We’d walk by and a piece would fall off,
and you could see a collection. But I don’t think any of us knew the extent until Dr. Patricia McDonald
took this on as a project. – [Patricia] Oh my heavens, so, I arrive in January,
and, you know, quickly, carefully, was informed that, “Patricia, we have a bit of an issue. …” – [Marianne] Part of the epoxy mortar that was holding
the glass on, came off, and behind that we can just see entirely deteriorated substrate behind it.
There was nothing solid. – [Patricia] The minute that one came off, we
immediately knew what our issue was, and that is that we had a wood backing. Actually, the wood backing
that we had was chipboard. – [Marianne] It was just like, pipe tobacco, really. It looked just like a can
of pipe tobacco. [laughing] – [Man] Some of these panels could very
well be unstable when taking ’em off. – Right, yes, yeah. This particle board was just disintegrating
with exposure to water and wind and the elements. And, even though that’s a really important,
sort of historical value, materialistically, for the artist’s technique, it was pretty
clear that a much more invasive treatment and much more major treatment,
and much more expensive treatment, was probably the best way forward. – We knew everybody had made the right decision
to sort of stop the ongoing maintenance and really study what was going on with it,
and devise a treatment to take care of it. – There was also clear resolve that afternoon.
So, we had a hint of what we were walking into and what we might find. We were sure hopeful that it
would not be what we found. But, the decision was clear. – Naturally, this is a somewhat
of a bittersweet moment, where we are de-installing,
taking down a work of art that is our icon. – And, at one point, Patricia
approached me and said, you know, I really think it’s time
to have a conservation effort on the Miro. And, she brought forward, as Patricia does,
a plan of how to move forward, and the plan was in excess of two million
dollars, but she had it laid out and I remember looking at this first
spreadsheet thinking, “Oh, this is crazy.” – And, certainly, none of us realized
that the cost would be so significant, because the process of the
restoration was so significant. You know, the first time they heard two-
and-a-half million dollars, they just gasped. – But, she laid it out for me. It was gonna
be a combination of fund-raising, foundation applications, grant development
and things like that. So, we talked through it and
there were a lot of unknowns, but the big piece that we knew at the time,
was that there was gonna be a five year period where the Miro would not be up there. – It made me sad to think
of an entire generation of some of our Shocker students
missing that opportunity to see that beautiful sculpture every day. – [Man] And that, in some respects, was about the hardest
thing for us to get over. – A lot of our treatments are challenging. This had more problem solving along the
way, and just the logistics of working on such a large piece
over such a long time. – When I first saw the piece and first met
the Russell-Marti team, I’d seen a really impressive
treatment proposal plan. They’d done a huge amount of testing, already,
by the time I first saw this piece. But, I think they were still very apprehensive,
if not nervous, about taking on such a, sort of enormous project. – In conversations over the development of the plan for, “alright Bob and Marianne,
how are you gonna do this?” We’re gonna save a world masterpiece,
but what are the steps? – So, when you’re the first to be undertaking
this sort of treatment on a Miro mural, that just, in a way, comes with the territory,
when you’re restoring modern, contemporary pieces with no established protocols
that the profession’s figured out. – This is our most important treatment. It’s just a huge honor to be able to
work on it. It really is. – [Patricia] They are such great researchers,
and Maryanne is such a detailed person. – It’s a completely unique
situation that they’ve had to come up with a very unique solution. – One of the best things about this
conservation project has been that the team who have taken care of it for so many
years, were able to design this process, and were able to create a schedule that literally put a team
on this for five years. – [Man] Okay, you can take it down. – [Marianne] We specialize in outdoor
sculpture conservation, and something as big as the
mosaic needed its own building that could be designed to meet
all the various treatment needs. The panels, in and of themselves, are very
difficult to move, and that’s actually a big part of the treatment, is just
how you handle the panels. Our first steps in treating a panel, are first, to document
it with photography, record interesting findings and document the story a
little bit for each panel. – [Bob] There was significant damage
and significant loss in this corner. The reason this is like this
is that everything inside this tape boundary was found to be loose. – [Marianne] The next step is to treat
the front of the panel. – [Bob] We go through, feel them all,
to see how loose they are. We tape ’em down. – [Marianne] And, also finding loose tesserae that are about to fall out. – [Andrew] I often joke, only half-joke,
that they’re all loose, (laughing) in the sense that
they’re not really adhered, and they’re only really held in by mortar fins and neighboring pieces. – [Marianne] So, then the next step is
to take the old backing off. So, before we can do that,
we have to face the front. – [Bob] If you do it for three years,
you gain a little bit of ground with it. – [Mark] And they pour a, uh … it’s about a half-inch
or an inch-thick layer of a gelatin mixture. – [Marianne]] Each panel
is faced in two pours. It’s actually hung from the overhead hoist,
and then poured. – [Mark] They pour it on the face of the mural,
and it gets down in all the little cracks, and it takes on the surface
texture of the panel. It holds everything exactly in place. Then they’ll take that
panel and flip it over. – [Marianne] And now,
it’s lying on its face, in the protective gelatin bed. – [Mark] Then they’ll spend
however long it takes to remove that wood backing. – [Marianne] Those
pieces are chiseled out. – [Mark] They then use
scalpels, dental tools. – [Justin] Working on this, and
then sometimes we have, up to three people working
on this step right here. – Whatever it takes to
get all the way down to the back of the stone and glass. – [Justin] It seems like a daunting task, but, eventually, (laughing)
you prevail (laughing). – [Marianne] After everything’s
exposed, then the back is completely cleaned with acetone
to get rid of any oil or grease or anything that might be there. So, the next step is to apply the new
stainless steel backing panels to the back of the mosaic. The Dow Corning 756 is applied to the back with spatulas, working very quickly because the pot life is
about 15 to 20 minutes. This material is actually really viscous, and it takes a lot of
force to push it down in an even way across the
whole back of the panel. That pressure also allows
the Dow Corning 756 to kind of gush out
through the perforations in the perforated stainless steel,
helping to hold it in place more. The whole panel cures
for about three weeks. – [Mark] It requires a certain level of humidity and air flow to cure properly. – [Marianne] At which
time, we remove the bulk of the gelatin and then the
little pieces are taken out, by hand with the tweazers and scalpels. [light piano music] That also brings us to the
final cleaning of the panels, where the marble is cleaned by steaming. But it’s still enough cleaning that it’s a huge transformation
between how it looked before and how it looks after the cleaning. The transformation is really dazzling. And, just knowing that we
get to work on this piece and preserve it for the
next many, many years, is a really remarkable
and, I’ve said it before, but it’s really a humbling
experience as well. – [Man] What could go wrong? – Oh, don’t say that, please. – [Woman] It’s panel number one. – Is that what it is? Panel number one. – [Man] First shall be last. – Yeah, first shall be last. – Can we get the other one in there? – Yeah. – In some respects, it was like building an
airplane while you’re flying. You know, we took it down,
they took the glass pieces off, and then we had faith that it
was gonna go back together, and now they’ve shown that they can do it. [construction beeping] – The steel framework, it’s
essentially a skeleton, and it is physically bolted to
the concrete of the building, and then each individual panel is bolted
to that steel framework. – The other thing that’s missing from the
conservation field are actually good examples of treatments. – When you’re removing that final layer, you use a grinder, and these
things will move like a wave. – If nobody is treating
modern contemporary art, if people are too worried or concerned, then that actually doesn’t
help the profession as a whole, because the future
generations will look back, and they’ve got nothing to base, you know, what was
successful, what wasn’t. – [Patricia] They were clear
that, through the process, as an outcome of the process,
that they were gonna be eager to publish what they did. – [Man] They can show others
who have tile mosaics, glass mosaics, that this is
a way in which you can do it. – [Man] Most of the students
on campus have never seen this. And, the amount of attention that it’s garnering is really significant. I’ll routinely see groups, standing there watching
them do the re-installation. I absolutely am convinced
that it’s going to, once again, be the welcoming sign of WSU. – As you see it go up and you look at it, you realize just how special
a piece it really is. – You know, Miro, I think’s
impetus for doing this, was to put this in a,
not only a public place, but on a university campus,
that would be frequented by, literally, hundreds of
thousands of people every year. So, this is something that, I think, fulfilled him very late in his life. And, it is exciting that we continue that through the re-installation. [electric guitar music] – You make a decision, at some point, to take on a project like that. Then, I think, you’re making a
commitment to making it work, and that’s what the leap of faith is, it’s in, okay, we are
now taking that step, there’s no going back, once
you take the Miro down, we’re gonna do what’s necessary to make the project work out. – We have such a great crew, that it has just fallen into place. – That’s good. – Andy and Justin, just, they’re amazing, and they’ve really made it happen. But, it’s just amazing
how it’s all come together and that it’s actually
happening in the way it is. [clapping and cheering] We’re just charged with being as careful as we can with this piece, and we don’t want to really
have much of our imprint on it, we just want it to be what it is, as cohesive a state as possible, so that it can stay up
for another 50 plus years. – It is very, very
gratifying to see it go up, and to know that we’ve
made the right decisions at the time to preserve this piece. [jazz guitar music] – Good afternoon, and welcome
to our homecoming festivities to mark the return of Joan Miro’s mural, Personnages Oiseaux, to the front of the Ulrich Museum of Art here at Wichita State University. We honor all our donors for their commitment to assuring the Miro mural will once again
welcome everyone who comes to campus for generations to come. – It would have been a travesty
to not take care of the Miro. Art of that caliber is intended
to last for many generations, and as individual mosaic pieces fell off, we were not being good stewards, until we could take care of it. So, everybody came together. Everybody knew that it
was the right thing to do. – But this is a campaign not of a handful of people who gave very large gifts. While we have large gifts in this, it’s a broad-base campaign, and that says that a lot of people cared. And so, while that may be a more challenging fundraising process, the end result is you’ve got a community that stepped forward and
said this is important and we’re gonna make it happen. – But I don’t believe I could ever forget that October day in 1978, when this grand mural was dedicated. The Unveiling was very exciting And I do believe this most important
work of art in Kansas, as the artist, Miró, hoped, influenced our students with its spectacular presence. We will look forward with great anticipation to its returning and rehanging. Let’s meet here again, then. – This was done because
a lot of people thought that this needed to be done, and this is something
that’s important to Kansas and to our nation, and we are
forever grateful for that. So, I don’t know if you are aware, other people are aware but the WSU Foundation actually owns all of the art that’s housed
in the Ulrich Museum, and, that includes the Miro and all the sculpture collection. So, when you are the owners of this art, whether it be the Miro or
the Henry Moore pieces, or the Tom Otterness
pieces, whatever it may be, you take on a responsibility
to conserve it. You’re really trying to preserve, essentially the artist’s intent, and do it in a way that does capture what the artist originally created when he put together the mosaic, but then do it in such a way that it’ll be there for
generations to come. – To have a work of art, again, center stage, to make that kind of profound,
compelling impact on people. That, how does your jaw not drop when you’re standing in front of it. Works of art, of this importance, strike you differently as you come back to it again, again, and again. Art gives you a real sense of transcendence. Something that brings us above the
day-to-day work that we do. Whether that work be with our hands or even what I do administering justice in a court room. [Robert Hughes] This view of the world that
you get throughout Miro’s work manages to be both sacramental and
full of respect for the world as it is and deeply irreverent about it, and somewhat mocking of the notion that here we are, as human beings, standing on the summit of the Universe with everything inferior to ourselves. He’s an object lesson for us,
in all respects. He came to Paris in 1919, attracted by Cubism. Wanting to be a Cubist painter. But found, that the formality of Cubism and its fundamental lack of interest in
subject matter, as such, was really not congenial to him. His imagination was some what wilder than that. – I know in this case,
that people looking at it and figuring out, or looking at it, what we did, what the decisions
that were made, they’ll say, “Boy, they had a lot of courage, and they made the right decision
for Wichita State and for Kansas.” And that’s a really good feeling.

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