Contrary to popular belief, contemporary art also needs conservation. A team of conservators is working at Kiasma on the collections and exhibitions, in close collaboration with curators, artists, registrars and museum technicians.
Preparation of the Markus Heikkerö retrospective has given the opportunity to work on five works from the donation made by the artist in 2013. These early works, executed in the late 1960s, belong to a series called «Abandoned Orphans». The paintings on canvas were unstretched soon after their creation and kept rolled or folded during more than fourty years. These bad storage conditions have caused deformations, areas with paint flaking off and paint losses.
A first conservation proposal, including inpainting of the paint losses and stretching of the canvas, was formulated after the condition reports. Two interviews with the artist changed the plans totally. He explained that the actual condition was really part of the works. He named the series «Abandoned Orphans» when he found it recently hidden in a plastic bag in his studio: it depicts very well their destiny, to be just orphans. He didn’t care about them. Consequently, the paint losses had to be preserved and only the major canvas deformations could be flattened.
The possibility to discuss options with artists is one of the interests of contemporary art conservation. Interviews with Markus Heikkerö provided a lot of information on the technique of the artist. Surprisingly, despite the modernity of the iconography, he has used old recipes for the sizing and ground layer of his canvas, extracted from the classical book by Max Doerner, The Materials of the Artist and their Use in Painting (1921).
One of the works is currently displayed in the exhibition together with a digitally inpainted photograph; no inpainting was done on the original painting. The work was only flattened with weights and the paint areas which were flaking off were refixed with an appropriate glue after tests in the studio.
The other works were flattened and boxes with long-term conservation materials were made to guarantee optimal storage conditions.
This experience demonstrates how conservation of contemporary art is not only the use of conservation techniques on the works, but also the opportunity to conduct studies and dialogs with the artists to clarify their views and intentions.
Nina Robin is in her final year of professional master’s degree in Conservation of cultural property, specialized in painting, at Sorbonne University in Paris. She did a five-month internship in Kiasma conservation studio.