Contemporary Conservation and Surreal Artwork: The treatment of two Pedro Friedeberg Sculptures

When asked to describe conservation work, most people think of old discolored paintings and fine art prints with stains and tears - items that need to be treated for decades or even centuries of damage. But time is not a prerequisite for conservation treatment. The reality is that at The Conservation Center, contemporary items arrive at our doors everyday in need of treatment. Recently we had the pleasure of treating two contemporary, functional items by Surrealist artist Pedro Friedeberg.

When Ellen brought a Pedro Friedeberg (b.1936) Butterfly Chair in for treatment, it wasn’t the first time she had decided to have the work examined by a conservator. “I had it restored many years ago, but I noticed some damage on the chair last year and decided to restore it again.” The need for conservation work wasn’t because of poor care or because the chair had been damaged in any specific way; it was a gradual, natural result of the artist’s technique. Josh McCauley, Senior Conservator of Frames and Gilding, noted that “the areas of gilding are water gilt without any finish applied, so they wear very easily.” New gilding was carefully applied to the areas of abrasion and loss, and while “it is difficult to water gild and burnish a three dimensional piece without leaving water marks or scratches” Josh was pleased with the treatment results.

 Ellen was pleased with the treatment results too; “when the chair turned out so well, I decided to also do the clock.” That clock, one of Friedeberg’s Astroclock-ological Time sculptures, also featured the eye-catching burnished gilding. As with the chair, the burnished gilding is unforgiving and shows every abrasion or sign of imperfection. But before the gilding was addressed, Senior Objects Conservator Sian Pirnie carefully dry cleaned the surface; which in conservation jargon means that it was cleaned without the use of any liquids. Sian then addressed small pin-point areas of loss in the painted areas by inpainted with materials that mimic the surrounding surface.

 After treatment by the Object Conservation Department was complete, it was time for the Frames and Gilding Department to take over once again. This time, Associate Conservator of Frames and Gilding Kevin Lawler began the delicate task of ingilding and burnishing areas of abrasion on the gilded surfaces. Once again, treatment was a success.

These two Pedro Friedeberg items hold a personal connection for their owner. Both the chair and clock “were purchased in Cuernavaca, Mexico by my Mother. The artist at that time lived near there, and my Mother was well acquainted with him.” The clock was a gift to Ellen from her Mother, and after deciding she no longer had space for the chair in her home, Ellen was gifted with the chair as well. With the treatments completed, Ellen is eager to have these beautiful examples of Pedro Friedeberg’s work “return to their place of honor in my home, hopefully to be enjoyed by myself and my guests for a long long time.”