In 2016, The Center had the pleasure of working on a personal piece for Kerry James Marshall titled Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness and we were very honored when the artist gave us the opportunity to work on another piece from his personal collection. “Ipso Facto” is a painting executed on two plywood panels joined together with batons and screws. The diptych is primed and painted with what appears to be moderately applied acrylic. Both panels depict a figure’s rear. The left panel is painted in white, with various colors playfully peeking through the brush strokes, and the other is painted in black surrounded by small white flowers with intimate red and green details. The piece is unvarnished and while unsigned, the painting is characteristic of Marshall’s work.
The Center’s Paintings Department met with Marshall to discuss their findings and to consult on treatment recommendations. Overall, conservators noted that the work showed issues mainly due to age and storage. These minor issues included a moderate layer of surface grime, numerous dark, scattered accretions, and a series of small losses along the bottom and outer right edges. Our conservators also reported a 16” vertical indentation in black near the right edge, a blemish that could be reduced but would remain post-treatment. On the back of the painting, there are five vertical and two horizontal batons, in addition to two corner braces, which were included by the artist for the support and hanging of the piece.
After photographing the work for documentation, the painting was cleaned with a pH-adjusted aqueous solution to remove grime, and the reverse was cleaned with a small brush and light suction into a HEPA vacuum. During cleaning, many of the various accretions throughout the painting were reduced, as was the appearance of the large indentation. Next, the paint layer was locally consolidated using conservation adhesives to prevent flaking and other forms of loss. Previous losses and abrasions were filled and textured using the appropriate conservation grade fill material, then inpainted using reversible conservation paints. The indentation and any remaining accretions were similarly inpainted.
Although the piece originally came to us in a simple white slat frame, the artist elected to have his work installed in a new custom frame, designed by The Center’s Custom Framing Department. Marshall and the framers worked to produce a design that echoed the original frame with a redefined structure. To achieve the desired aesthetic, our framers pulled color swatches and created a frame mockup to represent the custom frame vision. After several collaborative discussions between our framers and the artist, a final decision was made for the recreated look. They produced a reverse bevel float frame with a white exterior and a “divine wine” interior, a dark red color which helps exhibit the stark color contrasts of the work. Lastly, an acid-free coroplast backing was added to the painting for additional protection, and new hanging hardware was installed.
Marshall also allowed The Center to exhibit his work at our educational booth at this year’s EXPO Chicago.