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Getty, UAM Collaboration

Published: May 15, 2015

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PHOTO BY DOUGLAS FOX
Fabrication of Robert Murray’s “Duet (Homage to David Smith)” at the Bethlehem Shipyards in San Pedro in 1965.

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has announced a collaboration with the University Art Museum (UAM) at CSULB, to develop and implement conservation strategies for selected works from the university’s celebrated Monumental Sculpture Collection. The project includes the conservation of artist Robert Murray’s “Duet (Homage to David Smith)” (1965), which after 50 years has been restored to its original color.

The announcement comes as the university celebrates the 50th anniversary of its landmark 1965 California International Sculpture Symposium—the first international sculpture symposium held in the United States. As part of the collaboration, the international conference “Far-Sited: Creating and Conserving Art in Public Places,” will be held at CSULB October 16-18. The conference is held in partnership with the UAM, GCI and Museum of Latin American Art.

“This project with CSULB allows the GCI to apply some of the research and tools it is currently developing to address the challenges of conserving outdoor sculpture,” says Tom Learner, Head of Science at the GCI. “Murray’s work ‘Duet’ exemplifies many of the conservation issues posed by outdoor sculpture, offering a unique challenge and serving as an excellent case study for the GCI’s ongoing work in this area.”

Born in 1936 in Vancouver, Canada, Murray is a sculptor best known for his monumental outdoor works made of steel and aluminum. “Duet (Homage to David Smith)” is typical of Murray’s sculpture in the early 1960s, with its abstract, carefully balanced geometric composition. The work, made of three sheets of one-inch thick steel and painted, was fabricated at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard in San Pedro, the only facility in the area equipped to handle and form metal at the weight and dimensions Murray required. When the project was completed, a worker, newly won over to the cause of art, described it as “an honest use of steel.”

Although the formal characteristics of his work have changed over the years, color is an important and constant component of Murray’s sculptures. The work was repainted shortly after its initial fabrication because the color had rapidly faded, and was subsequently repainted many times. This eventually led to a strong shift in color, the later paints being markedly darker and redder. Deciding upon a treatment course meant identifying the different paints applied, especially the initial layer, deciding on the best way to retrieve and document the original color, and deciding on whether to revert to the original color. GCI scientist and project lead Rachel Rivenc frequently consulted with Murray throughout the process to enlist his help in identifying the original color. Rosa Lowinger and Associates completed the conservation work on the sculpture with the participation of the GCI.

“When Joseph Hirshhorn bought a piece of my sculpture in the mid-60s, he wanted me to send a can of paint to his conservator for touch-up and color matching,” said Murray. “This demonstrates how paint color is just as important as maintaining the structural integrity of sculpture, which makes it all the more gratifying when a 50-year-old piece such as ‘Duet’ is restored to its original appearance. I am pleased that Rachel Rivenc and her staff at the GCI along with Brian Trimble at CSULB and Maria Coltharp of the UAM are working together to have ‘Duet’ refurbished and repainted.”

The 1965 California International Sculpture Symposium was a significant experiment and major milestone in the formal collaboration of art and technology, and also gave birth to CSULB’s Monumental Sculpture Collection, part of the CSULB Outdoor Sculpture Collection. The event, organized by CSULB sculpture professor Kenneth Glenn and artist Kosso Eloul, built partnerships with industry to create innovative sculptures using new industrial materials and new technologies. Internationally recognized artists worked with industrial partners, such as Bethlehem Steel, Fellows and Stewart Shipyard, and North American Aviation in the creation of these landmark works.

Nine sculptures were realized on campus during the summer of 1965, and became the nucleus of the sculpture collection. Since that time, 17 additional pieces have been sited throughout the campus. The collection includes works by Piotr Kowalski, Guy Dill, Claire Falkenstein, Robert Irwin, Kengiro Azuma, Rita Letendre, and Eugenia Butler, among others.

The conference in October will examine new trends in public art, the use of new technologies and alternative practices, and the role of conservation for art in the public realm.

“The CSULB community is fortunate to have these important works of outdoor sculpture across campus. The 1965 California International Sculpture Symposium was an extraordinary undertaking that opened the doors to new technology in public art,” said Trimble, interim director of the UAM. “This partnership with the GCI has sparked new interest and scholarship around the works and it is an honor to work with the GCI on this initiative to ensure that these works continue to be protected and enjoyed for many years to come.”

For more information about the project, which is part of the GCI’s Outdoor Sculpture research and Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative, click here.

For more on the Far-Sited initiative, including an overview of CSULB’s outdoor sculpture collection, click here.