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  • - In 1952 Matisse had taken a short trip

  • with one of his assistants to a favorite pool

  • in the south of France to see divers

  • and it was so hot, and so sunny he said

  • "I'm gonna die of the heat, let's go home.

  • "I'll make my own swimming pool myself."

  • He asked his assistant to install a white paper frieze

  • at a height of about five and a half feet

  • and he cut blue painted paper into forms

  • of swimmers, divers, sea creatures

  • and the forms were pinned by his assistants

  • on to the burlap wall one by one.

  • The work stayed that way until his death in 1954.

  • After his death the work was traced,

  • it was sent to Paris in pieces, and glued onto

  • new burlap despite the known acidity of burlap

  • and its propensity to change color over time.

  • The white paper frieze was also new.

  • - The Museum of Modern Art acquired

  • the "Swimming Pool" in 1975.

  • It's arguably one of Matisse's

  • most important cut-outs and certainly

  • one of the most popular works of art in our collection.

  • People loved looking at it because

  • it's so lively and animated and gave you

  • a real sense of the way in which

  • Matisse worked with cut paper.

  • Unfortunately, by 1993 it had become discolored.

  • The burlap background had started to change color

  • and it had affected the paper itself

  • and so we decided it was no longer capable

  • of being displayed to the public.

  • About five years ago we started an

  • intense research project to figure out how

  • to make it viewable again, what we could do to

  • restore it, and conserve it, and bring it back to life.

  • This meant working with conservation scientists,

  • with art historians, with conservators,

  • to try and figure out a way in which

  • to return it to display.

  • In doing that, the cut-outs, which we

  • thought we understood, became alive again

  • as we realized that he had worked

  • in a very different way than we had thought.

  • - From the very beginning I had three goals.

  • The first was to return the color balance to the work.

  • That is tan burlap, white paper and blue cut-outs.

  • The second goal was to install

  • the work at its proper height.

  • Because of MoMA's ceiling heights

  • this had never been feasible.

  • Third goal was to mimic, as best as possible,

  • the architecture of the original room

  • to allow the viewer to really feel surrounded

  • by the cut-out and immersed in the "Swimming Pool".

  • A central part of the research was

  • to explore the way the cut-outs looked

  • when Matisse lived with them in his studios.

  • Claude Duthuit, the grandson of Matisse,

  • gave me a piece of the original burlap

  • from Matisse's dining room so I was able

  • to see the original color and the weave

  • that would have been my goal.

  • And I was very happy to find in the conservation archive

  • this small sample of the fabric used in 1955.

  • Never seen the light of day, not aged, not discolored.

  • You can see that over time this burlap changed

  • because of light exposure, because of atmospheric pollution,

  • and that's why I was so concerned

  • to replace this and get back to this.

  • The most time consuming part of the whole process

  • was the removal of the burlap from the cut forms.

  • I used a rotary tool, and then took a scalpel

  • and scraped off the remaining fibers.

  • When I felt that this was hurting the paper too much

  • I just took a fiber and i pulled it one by one

  • which took approximately 2000 hours.

  • My research led me to replace it with this new burlap

  • which the work will be mounted onto.

  • - The nature of burlap is that it's sort of an

  • imperfect industrial material, it's not

  • produced to be used on fine art.

  • It has a lot of imperfections.

  • There were a lot of clumps of dark fibers

  • and we found ourselves combing through

  • and picking out impurities.

  • - There was an idea, that because the way paper

  • has discolored over time, perhaps it

  • would have been possible to replace the

  • white paper with a new, whiter paper.

  • I made the decision not to do that

  • because the white paper has aged

  • the same amount of time as the blue

  • and if a new white paper had been inserted

  • it would have seemed jarringly white

  • as compared to the blue.

  • - So surface cleaning was performed on the

  • white paper using a vinyl eraser.

  • That couldn't be done on the painted blue pieces

  • due to the sensitivity of the gouache

  • and that meant going in with a very sharp colored pencil

  • and just touching out those little

  • scratches and dings that have happened over the years

  • so that the viewer only sees the

  • beauty of the blue cut paper.

  • - One of the controversial aspects of this

  • conservation process has been that instead

  • of mounting the white frieze and blue forms

  • with a new adhesive, the forms will be

  • pinned to new burlap panels.

  • This has never really been done before

  • on a Matisse conservation project.

  • This process has two goals.

  • One is to return to the work a little bit

  • of the three-dimensional liveliness

  • that the works would have had

  • in the studio when he lived with them.

  • And secondly, the white and blue will be

  • against the burlap only for the months

  • that they are on view.

  • Once the exhibition is over the works are unpinned

  • and they will no longer be in contact with the burlap,

  • which even though it is new, is still acidic.

  • - This is really important for future display

  • and for the future stability of this piece.

  • - The research that we did on the "Swimming Pool"

  • informed how we thought about all of Matisse's cut-outs,

  • and that's what makes this exhibition different

  • than any other exhibition about Matisse's work before

  • because this exhibition looks at the way in which Matisse

  • lived with these works of art, how he animated his life

  • by manipulating the paper forms that he cut out,

  • how he understood these works as organic

  • and I think that really comes through

  • in the way in which we've created displays here

  • that allow people to get a sense of what it

  • must have been like for Matisse to be surrounded

  • by this world he created for himself.

  • - This will offer both to the public

  • and to the conservation field an incredibly important way

  • of thinking about how the cut-out should be seen

  • and also how they should be conserved.

- In 1952 Matisse had taken a short trip

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B1 UK matisse paper cut swimming pool conservation pool

Henri Matisse: Conserving The Swimming Pool

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    Tori Yang posted on 2016/06/03
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