tv Democracy Now LINKTV November 20, 2013 3:00pm-4:01pm PST
before it is too late in life, and before your manner and taste were corrupted or fixed by working in your little way at boston. narrator: an impressive letter to a young painter and from the distinguished sir joshua reynolds. could he be right? ( harpsichord continues ) john singleton copley loved his country, but he wanted the richer artistic influences of the old world. besides, talk of revolution was everywhere. political contests, he felt, were neither pleasing to an artist nor advantageous to art itself.
in 1774, copley left; it would make him a better painter, he thought. sad for him, sad for america: he never returned to his home. at 34, john singleton copley was already one of the best and most popular painters in the american colonies. the young american artist john trumbull said of him, "an elegant-looking man dressed in fine maroon cloth with gold buttons, this dazzling to my unpracticed eye, but his painting, the first i'd ever seen deserving the name, riveted--absorbed my attention and renewed my desires to enter upon such a pursuit." copley had more work than he could do. early in his career,
he mastered the popular rococo style: rich texture of laces and lush fabrics, empty faces. but like many pre-revolutionary americans, copley could not suppress his belief in individual and personal expression. ( drumbeats ) taxation without representation: copley's father-in-law, an english merchant, was importing tea to america. copley felt he could not speak out against his family, nor could he defend them. seeking his artistic heritage, he sailed for europe. it wasn't long before he became part of that heritage, a forerunner in the great romantic movement. still, the longer his self-imposed exile in england, the greater his loneliness. his children were his models.
in his isolation in england, copley worked harder to be america's first great painter. "poor america," he wrote, "yet certain i am she will finally emerge from her present calamity and become a mighty empire. and it is a pleasing reflection that i shall stand amongst the first of the artists that shall have led the country to the knowledge and cultivation of the fine arts."
narrator: ...yet george catlin had a grander dream: he was an artist in search of a cause. ( native chanting ) 1824: an indian delegation on its way to washington visited philadelphia. daled by their colors, george catlin wrote, "after ty took the leave, i was ft to reflect. the history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustration, are themes worthy of the lifetime of one man.
( birds chirping ) some years later, the artist wrote, "i love a people who have always made me welcome tohe best they had; who are honest without laws, who have no jails, no poorhouse. and , how i love a peopl who don't live for the love of money." they trusted catlin. he was privileged to paint rituals which no white man had ever seen before: the steam baths of the mandan; sacred dancing; ( men chanting )
to promote the indian cause, catlin dreamed of seeing his paintings in a national museum. finding neither support nor recognition in america, catlin took his family, several indians, and his collection to europe. ( wind howling ) despite the great success of the indian exhibits, the european tour brought catlin great misfortune. burdened with debts and ill health, he sold his collection for pennies. resilient, bold, and determined, catlin returned the life he most cherished: painting the indians of the americas. "i take an incredible pleasure in roaming through nature's trackless wild,
( banjo music ) sasman: those who wish for a leness at a reasonable price areinvit. persons wishin' a flat picture can have a likeness without shade or shadow at 1/4 price. narrator: william prior was but one of many self-appointed painters to the new republic. some, like him, were prosperous and skilled--
painters by profession, following the ancient tradition of the limner. others were just men and women who could turn a capable hand to many different tasks: village artisans who were also farmers, housewives, schoolteachers, carpenters, jacks-of-all-trade; or itinerants-- travelers infected with the restless exuberant spirit of early america. they would paint for lodging and a meal. many remain unknown. all were academically untrained but their eyes were sharp.
james bard spent a lifetime painting steamboats in new york. shipbuilders admired his accuracy, claiming they could lay down the lines of a vessel from one of his paintings. ( lively banjo music ) in 1837, a visitor to america was struck by the manner in which the imaginative talent of the people had thrown ielf forth into painting. the country seemed to swarm with painters, and they left a pictorial diary of our past: ( choppy banjo music )
salesman: side views and profiles of children at reduced prices. one hour sittin', $2.92 includin' frame and glass. fancy portraits includin' pets and other details, $25.00. narrat: ralph waldo emerson expressed the spirit of many of these naive painters when he wrote, "i embrace the common; i explore and sit at the feet of the familiar. give me insight into today and you may have tntique and future worlds."
still others, poets and painters alike, saw visions of a future world in america. "i see a thousand kingdoms raised, cities and men, numerous as sand upon the ocean shore. the ohio then shall glide by many a town of note, and where the mississippi stamy forest shaded now runs weeping on, cities shall grow, and states, not less in fame than greece and rome." ( music )
( music ) narrator: the east buiing of the national gallery of art in washing d.c.- built to relieve the heavily- burdened facilities ofhe original gallery, to house temporary exhibitions, and to serve as a center for advanced study in the visual arts. within these walls, visitors to our nation's capital
are drawn in to a very special place where monumental accomplishments of modern masters await discovery. built on a trapezoal plot of land adjoining the original gallery, the east building is of a unique and radical desn, utilizing triangular shapes with large interior spaces. it was a collaborative effort spanning more than ten years. director j. carter brown worked closely with architect i. m. pei in its development. seven works of art were commissioned
it was agreed that a specific pieas needed to animate the unbroken expanse of wall in the central courtyard. but the artist would have to have a capacity for monumental concepts, with a sense of color and scale appropriate to the site. a unanimous choice was spanish artist joan miro. born in the catalan city of barcelo in 1893, miro has remained close to the land and its people. but as a young man in paris, he joined with friends like max ernst and jean arp in the emeing surrealist movement of the 1920s. in his painting "the farm," miro's characteristic symbols and themes began to appear: serpenne shapes, checkeoard patterns, finite space represented by the moon or a star. in 1922, he painted "the farmer's wife," the ancestress of countless female sbols that also became a continuing motif in miro's art.
in 1924, his art broke free of gravitational constraints in theurrealtic world of "harlequin's carnival." over the years, he developed his own personal symbolism, and in the 1950s, the scal his art grew with such works as a mural at harrd university and "the wall ofhe sun" for unesco in pas. as his work grew in size, miro continued what he termed "a process of simplification." he stated, "little by little, i have managed to reach a point at which i use no more than a small number of forms d colors." this process found a culminating expression in his eight-foot-high painting "femme," the maquette for the tialallery's tapestry. miro entered the project with much enthusim, stating,
"i'll go into this and fight it through with everying i have." over my months, the tapestry took shape in his imagination. finally, in 1976 it waset down rapidly as a maquette. in the ancient catalan city of tarragona, joan miro meets with young master weaver josep royo to discuss the transformation of his painting into a 10-meter-high tapestry. studying a photograph of the maquette, they consider how best to translate miro's art into a heavily- textured weaving, which would capture the spirit of his concept. royo has an enormous task before him. in this converted flour mill in tarragona, many months of preparation are needed before the weaving itself can begin. nearly four miles of heavy cotton line is measured, stretched and chained for use as the tapestry's vertical warp.
royo has developed a unique loom for weaving large tapestries. it has been built to accommodate the 20-foot width and th420-warp thrds which st be accurately aced a held in line. after all the warps have been laid out, each more than 50 feet in length, they are wound s onto a huge drum before finally being transferred to a massive overhead roller and stretched tight. on a cold february morning in 1977, the loom is ready for the weaving process to begin. the wool for the weft was imported from new zealand,
in the heart of catalonia, and tested for durability and resistance to fading. weaving from the bottom up and in mer segments, the completed section is pulled below the working bridge onto the floor, enabling the nished portion to be viewed as the work progresses. in march, miro visits his young colleague's studio he inspects the progress, makes suggestions, and gives his approval. royo works with a team of fellow weavers whom he has carefully trained to accomplish this imposing task. allows weaving to be performed from eitr side using multiple groups of yarn twisted together and passedver varying numbers of warps
meter by meter the forms of the tapestry graduallbegito emerge. miro has said of his approach to art, "this come to me slowly. my vocabulary foras not been the discovery of a day. it took shape alst spite of myself. in this way, ty ripen in my spirit." into the steamy month of august, the spirit of "femme" grows until the figure is complete.
now, with only a few inches of background remaining, royo welcomes miro to his studio once more to witness the final steps of an eight-month process. royo says, "working together, we have become so closely attuned that i can almost read his mind. i take direction as much from an expression or gesture as from words or sketches. working with miro has forced me to make a constant effort to do better, an effort from which i have benefited in many respects." for these two catalan artists, it has been a fulfilling experience. what was born in the imagination of one artist has been translated and skilully brought into being by another.
it has been more than five years since miro accepted this project. the end is now in sight, but first "femme" must be prared for her trip. hundreds of mothballs are scattered for protection before the tapestry is cut from the loom, covered, rolled and packed for shipment. the finished tapestry roll is 20 feet long, weighing well over a ton, and the task of moving is not a simple one. a window has to be enlarged to accommodate the passage of this huge parcel from royo's studio.
( muffled comments, crane engine rumbling ) the people of tarragona watch as "femme" is cautiously lowered onto the waiting truck to begin a long voyage across the atlantic. first she must travel to barcelona to be crated, before passage by ship to her home in america. royo follows "femme" to washington, d.c., to supervise the installation on the south wall of the east building's central court.
there are now many new problems to overcome. the tolerances are extremely close, demanding precise measurement, careful planning and a team effort. the huge roll barely fits into this confined space. the workers must unroll it evenly and accurately. bolts have been embedded deep into the structural wall, behind the marble facing, to support this massive piece when it slides into place. ( muffled comments ) carefully, royo grooms "femme," as the crew gradually hoistser upwd over the last few yards of a long journey.
( music ) this is the realization of many dreams, uly a work of collaboration; the fulfilent of a vision shared by the architect and the national galry, supported by generous patrons, brought to fruition by joan miro and josep royo. on this day, those drms and efforts are reaching a successf conusion. "femme" is at home. brown: "it's everything we hoped."
i'm not sure how it will hold up outside, although i am a little fearful because i've grown rather fond of it. we're going to have to paint it over with gesso to make it hard. the paint would fade from light, but the material itself was pretty durable. man: the materials used by an artist will definitely affect the life span of a work of art. it doesn't matter whether you are a famous artist who has done this for many years or a student who's just beginning. what you choose to use in making your art will definitely affect its life span. boy: the plaster wrap will probably fall off because of the rain, and then the tape will probably come off, but it's good while it lasts. that's my thinking.
man: we are in the conservation studio for paintings at the national gallery of art in washington, d.c. we are very fortunate here at the national gallery to have a very broad collection of art materials. we have paintings, sculpture, works of art on paper, textiles, furniture, ceramics... and these works of art are made from many, many different materials that are affected very differently by things like light, temperature, relative humidity, and therefore, it's necessary that we work to preserve these objects for future generations. the painting conservation department is, of course, responsible for paintings, but we also have conservators that deal with sculpture and the other materials in the collection.
and these conservators work together with the scientists at the national gallery in order to preserve the works of art. is a conservator an artist or a scientist? richard: most conservators are probably a mixture of both. if one is doing conservation treatments, it often helps to have a basic understanding of how an artist works. but in other situations, you also are dealing with technical issues, particularly chemistry, and it's very important that you undand the scientific information that's required in order to not only treat works of art, but also to preserve them. girl: how do you know how to fix a certain type of artwork? richard: before we begin the actual conservation treatment of any work of art, the conservators will very carefully research that object in order to understand how it was made and also how it's best to do the treatment. because it is very important for us to select materials
that we feel can be removed in the future. and also, it's important that we use materials that we feel confident will in no way do additional damage to a work of art. boy: how do you ensure that no damage is done during the restoration process? richard: conservators do considerable research before they actually will begin any treatment. it helps them to better understand exactly how the work of art is made, and it also helps them to understand what materials or what techniques they're going to have to use for the treatment. girl: why would someone create a piece of artwork if they know it might not last? richard: artists are creative people, and some of them are very concerned about the materials that they use, but other artists are going to use whatever materials happen to be at hand. which materials they choose to use is not something that we as conservators have control over. however, we still have the responsibility
to try to preserve these works of art once they've been created by the artist. traditionally, paintings have been varnished. and the varnish is applied to the surface of paintings for two reasons: one is, it actually brings out the richness of the color. the second reason is because it actually provides a protective coating on the surface. traditional artists used varnish on a regular basis. but once we arrive at the 20th century, the techniques that artists like jackson pollock were using often did not incorporate the use of varnish. this is a painting where the conservation treatment has already begun. it's a painting by antoine watteau. it's of ceres, who was the roman goddess of agriculture.
and watteau did a group of 4 paintings, which represented the 4 seasons, and this painting was representative of summer. can anyone tell me what they see? girl: i see that one side is darker than the other. richard: exactly. on the left side, the old discolored varnish, which, with age, turns yellow and ultimately a brown, is still on the painting. on the right-hand side, the varnish has been removed. about how long does it take to remove the varnish? richard: in some cases, one may be able to take the varnish off in just several days. but in many instances, it actually takes many weeks of work in order to do the process. how do you remove the varnish and not the paint underneath? we have to make many tests in advance in order to find out what solvents we can safely use, because every painting's different. we also have to make tests of the paint itself
to ensure that what we're using won't affect the paint as well. one of the earliest scientific tools that was applied to the conservation treatment of paintings was x-radiography. the reason x-radiographs work is because artists frequently used white lead mixed in with their paint. the lighter the color, the more white lead that you added. lead is a very dense material. as a result, when we take an x-radiograph, the areas where you have a considerable amount of the white lead do not allow the x-rays to pass through, and they appear white. if we look at this painting by tiepolo, you will notice that the woman is holding a fan. now, if we look at the x-radiograph for the painting, what can you tell me? what do you see that's different in the x-radiograph?
girl: the fan is completely open. richard: exactly. so at some point, tiepolo decided that he didn't want the fan to be open, but he didn't want to start over, so he simply painted on top of the existing fan in order to paint the fan closed. this is the paper conservation studio. the conservators here are responsible for works of art on paper, including prints, drawings, photographs, watercolors, pastels-- any work of art that was done on paper. woman: damage caused by light is one of the main problems we have to try to remedy in works of art in our collection. these two drawings by a french artist named ingres
are from the 19th century. ingres was a wonderful portrait painter, but he made pencil drawings of his subjects before he made the paintings. in this photograph of a drawing, this drawing, before treatment, you casee how yellow the paper got when light hit in order to get this discoloration off, but not to move or in any way reduce the pencil, we had tbe vcal in our treatme. the most interesting thing about this from your point of view might be that we had to use sunlight to take away the damage that light had done. we tk ese drawgs and ry carefully dampened them. we put them on a clean white blotter in a tray, and then we put them outdoors. and we stood with them in the driveway for about 4 hours, and the sunlight came and took away the damage that the sun had caused. we think it's because the sunlight, when it's in water, caes the molecules to vibrate.
and the colored parts that the sun had made before shoot off of the vibrating molecule. and then we brought it back in the lab, and we washed it again very carefully and dried it careful, to gand we see the result we see here. yes? what would happen if you left it out in the sun for too long? well, if we left it out and it stayed wet, it would get very, very white. and if it got dry, it would get very yellow again. so we watch it very carefully when we have it out there, and then we make a judgment about what tone we want it to be before we bring it in. why is one darker than the other? well, one was exposed to more light over its lifetime than the other. the most damaging part of light is the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. and that's what would cause this kind of damage to paper. and en we dithe eatmt on these objts, sed anolet filter...
so that we didn't allow the most damaging light to get at them. woman: we know that light damages art on paper, and these works on paper are no exception. here we are in the matisse tower gallery in the east building of the national gallery of art. we are surrounded by 5 superb paper cutouts done by henri matisse towards the end of his career in the early 1950s. this is a sky-lit gallery, and what we have done is to cover over the skylights. there is no uv in this room. we use artificial lights that have no uv coming out of them. all light is damaging, but uv is probably the most damaging, particularly to works of art on paper. we can lower the light levels, which we have done, to about 5 footcandles.
now, 5 footcandles is about the lowest reading that you will see in a museum setting. if you were to go down in a painting gallery, you might see a footcandle reading of 30 to 40 footcandles. the difference is, with works of art on paper, the light is much more damaging. this is an illuminance meter. actually, we call it a footcandle meter because it takes readings in footcandles. 363 days of the year, you can come here and see matisse's cutouts, but you can only see them for 4 hours per day, not 7 or not 8. that means that we have effectively reduced the exposure time by about half. that's good for the cutouts, and it's good for the public. richard: at the national gallery of art, we have many sculptures:
some made of wood, some of metal, some of stone. most of these works are exhibited inside the buildings. there are also sculptures that are exhibited outdoors. these works are exposed to the elements--rain, snow, pollution, bird droppings. it is the object conservator's job to care for all of these sculptures. woman: i want you to take a look at this wonderful sculpture-- probably one of the most famous from the 19th century. it's called the shaw memorial. it's by augustus saint-gaudens. this is a memorial to robert gould shaw-- who's the captain right here on the horse-- and the 54th massachusetts volunteer regiment during the civil war. anybody know what this might be made of? what's it look like? girl: it looks like copper. looks like copper? because it's shiny, or gold, yes. boy: looks more bronze to me. looks more like bronze. boy: plaster? plaster. very good.
this particular piece is in plaster, and it was covered in many layers of paint, some layers of bronze leaf, some layers of gold leaf, and all kinds of waxes and synthetic coatings. but the unfortunate thing is that it was exhibited almost outside-- it had a 3-sided shelter around it in new hampshire at the artist's homestead. now, what do you think happens to plaster when it's outside? girl: it ages? it ages. it gets worn down. what would happen? why would that happen? what goes on outside? and this was in new hampshire. sturman: wind and rain, snow...sun... you could even get some animals climbing up on it. well, after almost 40 years outside in that condition, the piece was begiing to look very, very sad, and the national park service was looking for a way of having this piece come back to life. we had a very big conservation project on our hands.
one of the things we did was take little bitty samples of the actual surface, and we found over 25 layers of different paints and gold leaf and so forth, and we had to look at those under the microscope and figure out which were the original layers. how did the artist, augustus saint-gaudens, want this piece to look? it was originally made in mold sections, and we had to x-ray the sculpture, find out where the mold lines were, find out where the internal armature is-- who works in sculpture? what would be an armature? boy: it's the metal wires inside that the sculpture itself is based around that help hold it still. sturman: right. when you're making a small-scale sculpture like you probably do in art, you would have metal wires, but this has big iron pieces. and what happens to iron outside also? it begins to rust, and it flakes,
and it gets very, very weak if it gets cracked. so while we're working on the outside of the piece, we also had to be making a whole brand-new stainless-steel armature for the inside of the piece so that after we put it back together at the national gallery, it would be strong and stable and be able to be exhibited here in the museum. so what we've tried to do in this conservation treatment was reconstruct and restore the piece to the way saint-gaudens would have had the piece looking in his lifetime. richard: this is the east building to the national gallery of art, and the building was designed by the architect i m pei. the artist, alexander calder, created this incredible mobile that hangs above. in the original design, it was going to be made of steel, but that would have been too heavy to move freely in this space.
paul matisse, who was an artist and engineer, worked with mr. calder in order to develop a design that was much lighter. and the final mobile only weighs 920 pounds, which is much lighter than the miro tapestry that alangs in this space. in the late 1980s, it was actually necessary to remove the mobile from the space. girl: why did they have to take it down? richard: because it need conservation treatment. not only had dirt accumulated on the surface, so we had to clean the work, but, in addition, there are parts where the metal is moving against metal, and this was actually causing some wear. the conservators had to use a special technique in oer to repair these worn areas with new metal. after that was finished, then those areas were painted so that it matched the rest of the mobile.
boy: is it due to come down any time soon again? not at the moment, and hopefully, we won't have to take it back down for many years. remember, what you choose to use to make your art will determine how long it lasts. varnish, while it protects paintings, darkens over time. light affects all works of art, especially works on paper. sculpture displayed outdoors is constantly affected by the elements. maintaining the original intentions of an artist is something that we strive for in conservation. it's our hope that works of art that we enjoy today will look the same, or approximately the same, to visitors who see the works of art a hundred years from now. all works of art are going to change somewhat with time. as conservators, it's our hope that we can preserve these objects, and ultimately, we have to rely on many tools.
we have to rely on our understanding of art history. we have toely on our skills as artists, and we also have to rely on the help of scientists who study these materials with us. and in the end, it's sort of like science in service of art. there are going to be a couple of boxes like this, and they're going to be stacked up like that. the form is sort of abstract. it should hold up really well. there still not perfect yet, but i'll fix it. i'm just going where my hands take me. so, we'll see.