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Louise Nevelson Work of Art Cleaned in Nelson-Atkins Gallery While Visitors Watch
Louise Nevelson American (born Russia), 1899–1988 End of Day—Nightscape IV, 1973 Wood with paint 95 × 167 inches (241.3 × 424.2 cm) Gift of the Friends of Art, F74-30

KANSAS CITY, MO.- It’s not often that museum visitors actually see a pair of hands working on a work of art, but that’s what will be on view at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art beginning Feb. 9 through Feb. 25. Louise Nevelson’s End of Day Nightscape IV will receive a thorough cleaning, paint consolidation and replacement of lost paint in the gallery in the Bloch Building, and visitors can watch the careful process.

“This work is always done behind the scenes,” said Rose Daly, conservation intern. “But the size of this piece necessitated it being done in the gallery. This is an exciting learning experience, since conservation is so seldom seen by the public.”

End of Day Nightscape IV is a large, rectangular wooden grid of smaller boxes subdivided into compartments containing scraps of wood, geometric shapes, door knobs and paintbrush handles. Spray painted black, it is nearly 8 feet tall and 14 feet wide.

“I’ll do the cleaning first, which will take a while because spray paint presents a unique challenge,” said Daly. “It develops a chalky look after a period of time. Cosmetic sponges are usually used in conservation because they’re very absorbent and good at picking up dirt.”

All materials used in the conservation are non-toxic. Daly will be available to answer the public’s questions in the gallery Thursdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The area becomes a Family Fun spot from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday Feb. 19 and Sunday Feb. 20, when Daly offers special talks for families. While Daly performs the treatments, docents will be available to answer questions and a table holding a printer’s tray and wooden forms that mimic those seen in End of Day Nightscape IV will allow visitors to create their own Nevelson-inspired compositions.

“All of our art has to be cleaned periodically because of dust accumulation, even though the Museum maintains an incredibly stable environment,” said Jan Schall, Sanders Sosland Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art. “Since spray paint has no elasticity or flexibility, it tends to become brittle over time. This assemblage was spray painted with no primer underneath, so the paint is peeling and cracking in spots.”

Louise Nevelson was born in Kiev in 1899, the child of a lumberyard owner. She played with wood pieces as a child and was fascinated with fitting pieces together to form a composition. Nevelson studied at the Art Students League in New York in 1930 and later worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera.

“Nevelson was interested in form, not the objects themselves,” said Schall. “She assembled boxes to make a grid, then put items she had found inside the boxes to create a whole world of shadows and highlights. She was very innovative, employing a minimalist approach with modification.”

Spray paint was something new when Nevelson began using it, a product that did not show the artist’s hand. There are no fingerprints or brush strokes; there is no mixing of pigment. The materials in the assemblage were scavenged by Nevelson, making her a pioneer recycler.

The 31-year-old Daly has been at the Museum since September 2010 and will remain until July 2011 as she works on her Master’s of Science in Art Conservation degree. There are only four art conservation programs in North America. A part of each intern’s training takes place in an art museum.

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