Collection 1940s–1970s

Sari Dienes. Soho Sidewalk. c. 1953–55 426

Ink rubbing on Webril, 80 × 38 1/2" (203.2 × 97.8 cm). Acquired through the generosity of Mary M. and Sash A. Spencer and the Modern Women's Fund. © 2019 Estate of Sari Dienes/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Curator, Esther Adler: Hi. I'm Esther Adler. I'm an associate curator here at the Museum of Modern Art and I'm joined here by

Conservator, Laura Neufeld: Laura Neufeld, assistant paper conservator.

Esther Adler: And we're here looking at this monumental rubbing by the artist Sari Dienes. She's making these works essentially on the sidewalks of lower Manhattan.

Laura Neufeld: And this is exactly the same technique, if you've ever used a crayon and a sheet of paper on maybe a tombstone or on a carved surface.

Esther Adler: I grew up in New York City. And so for me, I instantly knew what those little round circles were in many older buildings in Manhattan you would often get areas of the sidewalk where there would be little panes of glass and it was designed to let light into cellar areas so that people working there could see better.

Laura Neufeld: It is truly amazing how much detail is captured by this technique. She's being quite inventive with materials, so instead of using paper, she's using webrile and webrile is a cotton-based material, from the medical industry, and what it's actually intended for is to be the barrier between your skin and the plaster when you're getting a cast if you've broken a bone. So it's super flexible and durable, and it was cheap and came on big rolls.

Esther Adler: Imagine if you're walking down the street, and you come across this woman - she had this amazing frizzy white hair - and she would be there spreading this giant piece of cloth out on the sidewalk. She'd probably have one or two people helping her those people might also be artist people like Jasper Johns or Robert Rauschenberg, and then they would start to essentially apply ink with rollers and if you were watching really close you'd be able to see a pattern emerging .

Laura Neufeld: If you look carefully you can see distinctive bands of the ink and what you're actually seeing is the width of the roller, so you can really understand the kind of physical movement of her body and her arm when she was stooped over the ground.

Esther Adler: On the right hand side, there's this amazing meandering sidewalk crack that kind of has a life of its own - I wonder if she knew that crack was there when she picked this spot or whether that's just something she discovered as she was making the work.

Laura Neufeld: I think that's something that's really fun about rubbings. Sometimes you don't understand exactly the texture that you're going to pick up until you're doing it.

Esther Adler: Yeah.

Laura Neufeld: When you stand in front of this piece and you see the manhole you see the grading you see the glass. it's a good reminder to you know stop and look at the world around you when you're hustling from one place to another.

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