B1 Intermediate UK 805 Folder Collection
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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.
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Henri Matisse: Conserving The Swimming Pool

805 Folder Collection
Tori Yang published on June 3, 2016
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