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Friday, May 17 • 10:00am - 10:30am
(Wooden Artifacts) Art Shapes: An Investigation of Hans Arp’s Constellations II

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Constellations II is a thirteen-panel, wooden wall relief designed by Hans Arp (also known as Jean Arp, 1886 - 1966) for Harvard University’s Graduate Center in 1950. One of several artworks commissioned by Walter Gropius and The Architect’s Collaborative for Harvard’s first modernist building on campus, the relief is unique in Arp’s oeuvre as his only large-scale wood relief and his first architectural commission. To prepare for the relief’s display in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition The Bauhaus and Harvard at the Harvard Art Museums, a technical study was undertaken to better understand its condition history and earlier surface appearances, which directly informed treatment and interpretation. Constellations II is a complex case study that offers insight into the working relationship of two prominent art historical figures as well as the challenges of treating a work that was never fully resolved and was removed from its original context. Installed in the Graduate Center’s dining room in 1950 with the title Constellations, the relief originally had a dark red "natural" finish that showcased the graining of the redwood forms. Archival records, photographs, and correspondence between Arp and Gropius indicate that the artist sent instructions to rearrange and modify the relief in 1958 in order to protect the panels from damage and account for viewing obstructions in the room. As part of the revised design scheme, Arp also requested that the panels be painted blue - a compromise between his evolving thoughts on the relief and Harvard’s limited budget for the adjustments. Even after these major alterations prompted the renaming of the relief to Constellations II, drastic changes continued to affect its appearance. By 1975, a series of undocumented painting, stripping, and coating campaigns had taken the appearance from blue, to white, and back to red, leaving the surfaces scratched, patchy, and uneven. Records of these campaigns survive only in sporadic photographs from the 1950s to the 1980s and on the relief itself, where remnants of paint and coatings are present on the edges, backs, and recesses of the panels. It is unclear whether these later modifications were sanctioned by either Arp or Gropius, who both died in the late 1960s, and the motivations behind them are completely unknown. In 2004, the relief was deinstalled from the dining room as part of a larger renovation project and transferred to the care of the Harvard Art Museums. Scientific analysis of the paint and coating layers on the panels helped define a timeline of alterations and corroborate surviving archival documentation, allowing the project team to make an informed decision to return the panels to their original dark red appearance. A digital tool was created to share the past iterations of the relief with the public and to better explain its history at Harvard University. This approach was deemed to be the best compromise to present the relief with an exhibitable surface while respecting the object’s history and the artist’s statements about his work.

avatar for Madeline Corona

Madeline Corona

Assistant Conservator, J. Paul Getty Museum
Madeline is an Assistant Conservator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the J. Paul Getty Museum. She earned her M.S. from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation where she specialized in objects conservation with a concentration in conservation science... Read More →

avatar for Angela Chang, [PA]

Angela Chang, [PA]

Assistant Director and Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, Harvard Art Museums/Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Angela Chang is the Assistant Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies and Head of the Objects Lab at the Harvard Art Museums. She has special interests in preventive conservation, technical research, artist interviews, and project management. Her recent... Read More →
avatar for Georgina Rayner

Georgina Rayner

Associate Conservation Scientist, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Georgina Rayner is the Associate Conservation Scientist at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums. Prior to this role Georgina was the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Science at the same institution. Georgina holds a Masters... Read More →
avatar for Melissa Venator

Melissa Venator

Stefan Engelhorn Curatorial Fellow, Harvard Art Museums
Melissa Venator (Ph.D. 2016 Rice University) joined the Harvard Art Museums in 2016 to support exhibition and public programs for the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s historic Bauhaus collection. She is a curator and historian of modern European and American art specializing in the art... Read More →

Friday May 17, 2019 10:00am - 10:30am EDT
Abenaki Room Sky Convention Center, Mohegan Sun
  Specialty Session, Wooden Artifacts