Conservation in Copenhagen
Wherever they are located, the conservation of our works is vitally important. The fact that we place art in UK government sites across the world – outside of a museum or gallery context – places unique demands on the Collection. In 2009 several works of art in HM Ambassador's Residence in Copenhagen required treatment. What conservation issues did this pose? And what steps were taken to solve them?
Andy Goldsworthy constructing 'Slate Cone' at the Ambassador's Residence, Copenhagen
© Crown Copyright
When Nick Archer, HM Ambassador to Copenhagen arrived in post in 2008, he was delighted to discover works of art in the Residence by leading British artists from the Government Art Collection. This included two twentieth century sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Andy Goldsworthy in the garden of the Residence. Twenty-one years before, the GAC had placed 'Slate Cone' (1987–88) a slate sculpture resembling a giant fir cone assembled by land artist Andy Goldsworthy on the garden lawn (image 1). Quite naturally after many years exposed to the Danish climate, the work was showing signs of deterioration and required conservation intervention (images 2 & 3). In particular, the copestone (image 4) had been lost and the circular slate base had become amorphously misshapen through grass creep over time (image 5).
Andrew Parratt, Curator of Collection Services, consulted Goldsworthy about the condition of the work before visiting Copenhagen to make a preparatory examination of the sculpture before restoration. There were several other reasons for Andrew to visit Copenhagen: He needed to discuss relocating another sculpture 'Hollow Form with Inner Form' (1980) by Barbara Hepworth; to survey the condition of all GAC works on display; and to find a Danish conservator to treat some works locally. These included the full-length portrait of Sir Augustus Foster which had been given to the Ambassador's Residence by the sitter's descendents on the understanding that it remained on display in Denmark.
Preparations were also needed to create a new Residence display to coincide with the COP15 United Nations Climate Change negotiations planned for Copenhagen later in the year, when the building would be extensively used for diplomatic activity surrounding the conference.
Once in Copenhagen, Andrew visited a local conservation studio recommended by the Danish National Gallery to arrange treatment to the Foster portrait. He also examined the Goldsworthy sculpture and made a template for the artist to replicate the cap stone. To ensure a close match, the stone was sourced and cut by the artist in Scotland, as slate is not a building material commonly used in Denmark.
Moving the Hepworth bronze sculpture 'Hollow Form with Inner Form' was also reconsidered on this visit, as the sculpture's setting had already been improved by replacing paving previously encircling the base with turf. However, the planting of three apple trees a few metres away may eventually become a conservation concern as overhanging boughs could deposit sap, fruit or leaves onto the surface of the sculpture, or tree roots disturb the foundations (image 6). The decision for the sculpture to remain will be reviewed as the trees mature, and is indicative of the type of challenges the GAC has in managing cultural assets in distant locations.
In September 2009, Andrew returned with Goldworthy's assistant, Sam Clayton, to restore the sculpture. The new copestone was secured using a silicon bond (image 7) and the base slates carefully rearranged into their original compact circular form (images 8, 9 &10) in the process exposing areas of earth covered by dislodged slates. This required coordination with the Residence gardeners to plan how the ground would be re-sown and maintained following conservation to avoid disturbance to the slate in future (image 11).
By the end of his visit, Andrew had also overseen installation of the new display including '5/70' (1970), an acrylic painting by 60s abstract artist Jeremy Moon previously displayed in the UK Ambassador's Residence in Jakarta. Museum professionals accustomed to tightly-controlled environmental parameters might find this change disconcerting, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office estate is environmentally managed to occupancy comfort levels and as a consequence offers some consistency in display standards wherever works are hung. Decisions about whether a work is materially suited for display in a new location is a crucial part of the GAC's role, and another example of the unique challenges the Collection faces in placing art in working environments worldwide.