A talk by Andrew Durham, The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide, 20 June 2019
In a wide-ranging and rather disordered lecture, Art Conservator Andrew Durham (from Artlab) covered topics as diverse as art forgery, preservation, techniques and use of materials, as well as the problems posed to conservation and preservation by the anarchic and chaotic predilections of artists.
Durham moved at speed from one vignette to another, but the Big Theme was the overarching and critical need for care: in use of materials, in execution, and in knowing when to down tools. In the Good Old Days, of course, the first 2 were problematic, in that the surfaces could be dodgy (e.g. The Last Supper) and the oils and application to frescoes likewise (e.g. vide that notorious Ecce Homo ‘restoration’ in Spain).
In more recent times, the problem has been the workman, not his tools. J W M Turner, for example. Durham is something of an authority on Turner, and thought the work at Carrick Hill (obtained from England c. 1905) to be authentic, rather than that of a student (see main image, above). Turner did finish-off some of his pieces in a hurry but ensured he got good canvasses to stretch and his father to mix egg into the colours for enhancement and durability. Francis Bacon, for all the turmoil of his life (and studio), took care that his frames were able to be moved out of the door. Brett Whiteley kept a detailed list of his works, which was a key piece of evidence in a celebrated forgery case in which Durham was involved.
Of course, The Varnished Culture has weighed-in on these matters before. We are on record about Turner of course (who Dali described as the worst painter in the world), and share the opinion as to Carrick Hill’s piece – it is certainly bad enough to be an authentic J M W. Bacon is very hit-or-miss, and Whiteley is so poor as to damn any forger of his daubs – obviously all for coin and nothing for the aesthetic.
Mr Durham concluded an entertaining evening with an account of the massive painted installations of Frank Stella in the capacious foyer of the Seidler Building in Sydney (see an example below). Because of the metallic mix of paint used by the artist, the inexplicable failure to properly wrap the work on its sea voyage from America, and the obvious slap-dash finishing – it appears not all of the protecting masking tape used during painting was removed – substantial deterioration occurred, particularly with flaking paint, requiring expensive restoration under Durham’s auspices.
Personally, we’d use these gaudy tin-pots as hoarding rather than venerate them as art, but let that pass. They are, in their way, impressive. They seem “to float” as the neophyte amusingly describes a Stella in Hannah and Her Sisters, and their size certainly caters for “a lot of wall space.” What David Roche would have thought of them we can only guess – and so too inaugural Roche curator Martyn Cook, whose sad and premature passing we observed and noted in a May TVC Facebook post, and to whose memory this enlivening talk was dedicated.