The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Todaydisplays numerous artworks in a variety of mediums and sizes. When we think of conservation, we often think of preserving works of art from earlier periods, but more recent art must also be treated. To prepare for the exhibition, our conservators remounted two large Polaroid photographs by Lucas Samaras (1983) and Chuck Close (1989).
Lucas Samaras’s monumental self-portrait is composed on a single Polaroid sheet measuring 88 ¼” x 49 ½”. It required remounting to a new backing board and strainer to support the photograph in its frame. When the photograph was cut from its existing backing, we found numerous attachment materials on the verso, or the back, which would have to be removed. These included hinges,which in this case were small pieces of linen tape, previously used to attach the artwork to its backing. This method is used instead of gluing down the art to the backing because it does not permanently alter the work.
For the Samaras, we first removed the carrier, or paper backing, of the hinging materials with moisture and by gently scraping with a scalpel blade. The remaining adhesive was removed with a crepe rubber eraser.
The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibit specialist constructed a new backing board and strainer support for the piece out of archival materials. He then adhered new hinges to the photograph’s verso. Finally, he attached the photograph to the backing support.
In contrast to the Samaras, which is printed on one large sheet, the self-portrait by Chuck Close is comprised of 16 individual Polaroid photographs. They are arranged like tiles to form a composite image. The entire piece measures 107 9/16” x 86 ¼”. Its preparation was more complicated because the individual photographs had to be mounted separately.
First, each Polaroid had to be attached to a section of 2-ply mat board cut to the size of the photograph’s image area. The mat board had to be smaller than the photographic sheet, as the individual photographs had to overlap at the edges, per the artist’s intent. Japanese paper hinges were cut to the width of the mat board and folded in half. The side of the hinge touching the photograph was coated with a pressure-sensitive material that could be attached by burnishing the area. The side of the hinge attached to the mat board was coated with PVA (polyvinyl acetate).
After constructing a new backing board and strainer for the piece, strips of Velcro were attached horizontally to the board. 1” sections of Velcro were attached to the top two corners of the mat board.
Conservators attached the photographs to the Velcro strips, laying them down left to right and from bottom to top. Once the photographs were all mounted, the piece was ready to be framed and hung in the exhibition.
These newly mounted and framed pieces can be viewed in the exhibition Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today through August 18, 2019.