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Magritte’s The Enchanted Pose, 1927: Palette Unveiled

As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators and conservation scientists have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more

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Magritte’s The Menaced Assassin, 1927—Treatment and Research

As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators Cindy Albertson, Anny Aviram, and Michael Duffy have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more

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Lettering Magritte
Title wall of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 at The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Title wall of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 at The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

For most graphic designers, typography is one of the most important, challenging, and seductive parts of graphic design. So when Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Curator of Painting and Sculpture, and curatorial assistant Danielle Johnson, who organized the exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary,1926–1938, suggested incorporating Magritte’s beautiful lettering style—or a version inspired by it—for the title wall design, I was, of course, very excited. I began my work on the project by researching and gathering samples of where Magritte’s lettering appeared, such as in his paintings La Trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), L’Apparition (The Apparition), and Le Masque vide (The Empty Mask).

René Magritte. La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images [This is Not a Pipe]). 1929. Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 31 15/16 x 1 in. (60.33 x 81.12 x 2.54 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013. Photograph: Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,Licensed by Art Resource, NY

René Magritte. La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images [This is Not a Pipe]). 1929. Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 31 15/16 x 1 in. (60.33 x 81.12 x 2.54 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013. Photograph: Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,Licensed by Art Resource, NY

René Magritte. L'apparition (The Apparition). 1928. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 45 11/16" (81 x 116 cm). Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. L’apparition (The Apparition). 1928. Oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 45 11/16″ (81 x 116 cm). Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. © Charly Herscovici—ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. Le Masque vide The Empty Mask. 1928. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 1/4" (73 x 92 cm). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. © Charly Herscovici-–ADAGP—ARS, 2013

René Magritte. Le Masque vide (The Empty Mask). 1928. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 1/4″ (73 x 92 cm). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. © Charly Herscovici—ADAGP—ARS, 2013

There were many variations from one artwork to another: some had greater contrast of thick and thin, others were more condensed, and there were perceptible shifts in stroke weight—largely due to the proportion of sizes between the brush and the letters he was drawing. Yet, it surprised me to see how incredibly consistent his letterforms were. The letter “p,” for example, the most notably unique character in his alphabet, always had an open counter, and looked like an “n” with a prolonged stem. The end of the letter “s” consistently looped inwards into a soft twirl that finished with a small, delicate node.

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Detail of the letters “p” and “s” from a Magritte painting

To say that my first attempts were not quite there is an understatement.

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The author’s lettering experients

It took dozens of variations, testing, tweaks, and just plain old graphic designer obsession to get it to a point that felt right and captured the elegant, rhythmic, and gestural quality of Magritte’s original lettering. When I got stuck on how to resolve a particular transition between letters—for example, between the “B” and “r” in Brussels—I would go back to my research and sure enough, Magritte was there to give me a helping hand.

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Detail of the letters “b” and “r” from a Magritte painting

My finished lettering is used in five places throughout the exhibition. Taken out of it’s familiar context in Magritte’s paintings, it now functions as signage that both guides visitors through the galleries and draws them in.

Close up of the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

The exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Detail of lettering on the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Detail of lettering on the exhibition title wall. Photo: Martin Seck

Close up views of lettering in the exhibition galleries

Close-up views of lettering in the exhibition galleries. Shown: René Magritte. The Menaced Assassin. Brussels, 1927. Oil on canvas, 59 1/4″ x 6′ 4 7/8″ (150.4 x 195.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © 2013 Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Martin Seck

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October 31, 2013  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Conservation
The Discovery of Magritte’s The Enchanted Pose

As indicated in the previous post in this series, MoMA paintings conservators Cindy Albertson, Anny Aviram, and Michael Duffy have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926–1938. Read more

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Revealing the Mystery of Magritte’s Materials and Techniques
From left to right: Conservators Michael Duffy, Anny Aviram, and Cindy Albertson, and Curator Anne Umland in MoMA's Paintings Conservation Lab with René Magritte’s The False Mirror, The Palace of Curtains, III, and The Portrait

From left to right: Conservators Michael Duffy, Anny Aviram, and Cindy Albertson, and Curator Anne Umland in MoMA’s paintings conservation lab with René Magritte’s The False Mirror; The Palace of Curtains, III; and The Portrait

In his polemical 1938 speech “La Ligne de vie (Lifeline),” René Magritte spoke of his “objective representation of objects,” claiming that, “In my view, this detached way of representing things is characteristic of a universal style in which the manias and minor preferences of the individual no longer play any part.” Read more

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Tracking Bells through New York (and Trying Not to Make a Leap Like Quasimodo)

A Bell For Every Minute is a sound installation, originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It was first installed on the High Line from June 2010 through June 2011. The finished composition consists of 59 bell recordings which ring together at the top of the hour and then individually each minute after that from five speakers. I still regret that I didn’t do more to document the people I met at the sites where I recorded each bell and their stories. When I hear the piece, there are moments of conversation that come back to me—the ladder we were handed in Central Park to climb up to stand next to the monkey statues who ring the bell as the kangaroo, penguin and elephant rotate around; the nun at St. Paul’s Chapel who went out into the rain with me and said very little; the man at the Buddhist temple who suggested that my assistant and I might want to get high and really listen to the vibration of the temple bell sometime.

The first time I visited the High Line was with Meredith Johnson from Creative Time, before it was open to the public in early 2009. There was still graffiti everywhere and the feeling of visiting an industrial ghost town.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. World Trade Center Recordings. 1999. Photo by Johnna MacArthur

When I was up there, besides being freezing cold, I thought of the sounds that might have once been present, the clanging and ringing … and then was brought back to a memory of the very first sound I heard through my window-mounted microphones when I was in residence in the World Trade Center in 1999—church bells from some unseen spot in the city.

I decided to create a piece for the High Line that would allow me to investigate bells all over New York, from religious cultures to maritime bells, sporting arenas, bars, and whatever else might appear.

Once I began, I tried to take a photograph of each site. The photo that most often gets used to represent the project is from Herald Square. The structure that includes the bell is called “Minerva and the Bell Ringers.” I almost passed over that site. I kept thinking it would be too noisy to record in midtown and couldn’t imagine what sort of bell would be there. I came to the park on a freezing cold day. Two men were sleeping on benches. The automated bell ringers struck on the hour. At the end of the recording, just as the bell fades, I can hear someone saying, “Hey, who took all my rubber bands?” Random bits of city sound and city people become part of the memory. An accident of oral history.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Soon after I began the process of recording, there was an article in one of the newspapers that a bell from Coney Island’s Dreamland Amusement Park had turned up. Dreamland had burned down in 1911. In recent years, a diver had been looking for remnants of the amusement park off of the piers of Coney Island and he had come up with the original bell that weighed several hundred pounds. The bell was “on view” under the Cyclone. It was presented in the Coney Island History Project’s small shack for two weeks before going into a private collection. I was given the chance to record it. The guys in charge screamed at visitors and those passing by to quiet down so I could record the bell.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Saul Becker

The bell remained in great condition. Only the clapper had rotted. That night, after Coney Island, I visited my friends Saul and Kristen Becker. Kristen was the architect for the project. Saul helped me with some of the site-visits. Their cat, Boots walked by, with his collar jingling and the discovery of my next recording was revealed.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Saul Becker

I recorded at more than one temple and honestly can’t remember which one it was that offered the potentially psychedelic experience. This photo below is from the Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Chinatown:

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

This one was at my sound engineer, Bob Bielecki’s house in upstate NY but never made the cut:

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

In late September 2009, I was invited to come to St. Paul’s Chapel, to record the Bell of Hope. This bell was a gift to the U.S. by the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is wrung every September 11. I came to the Chapel on a rainy Sunday morning, not sure who I was meeting. Eventually, a young nun came up and introduced herself to me as Sister Precious (at least as I remember). She took me out to the courtyard. She hadn’t said anything to begin and I originally imagined it would be a short ring of the bell and a run for shelter. Instead, she rang the bell for nearly three minutes, smiling kindly the whole time. The longer it went on, the more I could hear the bell as it resounded, filling the courtyard and filling the space beyond the gates of the yard and out to the streets which had politely quieted down just for that moment. In my installation, which is now in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden, you hear an edited version. I thought this would be a nice moment to include the original file, just as it was played.

Other locations included the Delacorte Music Clock in Central Park,

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

the New York Stock Exchange,

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010.Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

and the Goof Stuff Diner in Union Square.

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. 5-channel sound installation with aluminum sound map. Commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

Stephen Vitiello. A Bell for Every Minute. 2010. Location photo for a project originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. Photo: Stephen Vitiello

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MoMA’s Jackson Pollock Conservation Project: Number 1A, 1948
Jackson Pollock. Number 1A, 1948.  1948. Oil and enamel paint on canvas,  68" x 8’8". The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. © 2013 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jackson Pollock. Number 1A, 1948. 1948. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, 68″ x 8’8″. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. © 2013 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

With study and treatment of One: Number 31, 1950 completed and the painting returned to exhibition, we’re moving on to the final painting of the project: Number 1A, 1948. Read more

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Letter from Perth: Van Gogh, Dalí, and Beyond: The World Reimagined at AGWA

I’ve just returned from the other side of the world—Perth is our antipodes, at exactly 12 hours ahead of New York—where I was installing the exhibition Van Gogh, Dalí, and Beyond: The World Reimagined at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, along with AGWA curators Gary Dufour and Glenn Iseger-Pilkington. The third installment in a six-show partnership between the two institutions, this exhibition looks at how modern artists have reinvented the traditional genres of landscape, still life, and portrait. A selection of 134 works from MoMA’s collection—paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and a media work—made the long journey to be enjoyed by a new audience from June until December.

Visitors to AGWA will see how the definition of landscape has evolved from 1889, when Vincent van Gogh painted his iconic The Olive Trees, to 2006, the year of Tacita Dean’s neo-Romantic photogravure installation T&I.

Vincent van Gogh. The Olive Trees. June-July 1889. Oil on canvas28 5/8 x 36" (72.6 x 91.4 cm). Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest

Vincent van Gogh. The Olive Trees. 1889. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest

They’ll observe how the meaning of a still life has expanded from Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Ginger Jar, Sugar Bowl, and Oranges (1902–06), to Michael Craig-Martin’s Folio (2004), a portfolio of 12 brightly-hued screenprints depicting ordinary objects like a sneaker and a cell phone.

Michael Craig-Martin. Untitled from Folio. 2004. Portfolio of twelve screenprints. Composition and sheet (each approx.): 12 7/8 x 39 3/8" (32.7 x 100 cm). Alan Cristea Gallery, London. Advanced Graphics, London, 40. © 2013 U. Streifeneder, Munich / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

Michael Craig-Martin. Untitled from Folio. 2004. Portfolio of 12 screenprints. Alan Cristea Gallery, London. Advanced Graphics, London, 40. © 2013 U. Streifeneder, Munich/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Germany

And they’ll perceive how the possibilities and priorities of portraiture have shifted from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge (1891–92), to the 2011 installment of Nicholas Nixon’s annual portraits of his wife and her three sisters, The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts.

Nicholas Nixon. The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts. 2011. Gelatin silver print. Gift of the artist. © 2013 Nicholas Nixon

Nicholas Nixon. The Brown Sisters, Truro, Massachusetts. 2011. Gelatin silver print. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist. © 2013 Nicholas Nixon

Used to the 90-degree angles of MoMA’s galleries, it was first a challenge—and ultimately a great pleasure—to install in AGWA’s galleries, which are shaped like hexagons, and whose walls follow the angles of a ceiling composed with triangles. These angles create long views that encourage visual connections across galleries, many of which were unplanned but fortuitous. Standing in front of Matisse’s The Blue Window in the exhibition’s still life section, for example, you can look back into the landscape gallery and see Milton Avery’s Sea Grasses and Blue Sea, another painting that tests the border between representation and a blue monochrome.

While hardworking registrars carefully planned the transport of these masterpieces, two works didn’t have to be sent at all. Rocks Upon the Beach Sand Upon the Rocks, a 1988 installation by the artist Lawrence Weiner, describes a landscape only in words, and is remade each time it is installed to fit the exact dimensions of the venue. Below is the version designed in collaboration with the artist’s studio for AGWA.

Lawrence Weiner (American, born 1942).  Rocks Upon the Beach Sand Upon the Rocks, 1988. Language + the materials referred to, dimensions variable.  Acquisition from the Werner Dannheisser Testamentary Trust.  © 2013 Lawrence Weiner / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.  Installation view, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2013

Lawrence Weiner. Rocks Upon the Beach Sand Upon the Rocks. 1988. Language and the materials referred to, dimensions variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquisition from the Werner Dannheisser Testamentary Trust. © 2013 Lawrence Weiner/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Installation view, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2013

And Urs Fischer’s Untitled sculpture from 2000 consists of half an apple and half a pear, screwed together and suspended from nylon filament. The work was not only constructed anew for this venue, but will be remade regularly throughout the course of the exhibition. A kind of postmodern still life, it takes Cézanne’s desire to express the tangible “thingness” of a piece of fruit to a whole new level.

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MoMA’s Jackson Pollock Conservation Project: Wrapping Up Treatment of One: Number 31, 1950
A meeting between conservators and curators to view <em>One: Number 31, 1950</em>

A meeting between conservators and curators to view One: Number 31, 1950 as Pollock would have during its creation: laid horizontally

Throughout the project, we’ve been working closely with curators in MoMA’s Department of Painting and Sculpture, and this exchange of ideas surrounding Pollock has enriched and informed the treatment process. During one such meeting, we took advantage of the opportunity to view One: Number 31,1950 as Pollock saw it during its inception: laid horizontally. Read more

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Making the Rain

Rain Room‘s conception was swift. We were coming up with ideas for dropping an image from above, so each individual pixel would fall into place, using water on water-reactive ground. Read more