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Saturday, June 2 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Objects) Conserving Alchemy: Bonded Bronze and the Art of Michael Richards

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In 2001 the 38-year-old Jamaican-American artist Michael Richards was flourishing. His body of work was compelling and suggested immense promise. He had already won a number of competitive artist residencies including one from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC). His work had been exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Miami Art Museum and the Aldrich Museum, amongst others. Often addressing themes of race and social injustice, his work from the 1990’s has particular current relevance. Imagery of aviation and flight recurs in Richards’ art expressing the potential of both uplift and downfall. Richards’s best known work is Tar Baby vs. Saint Sebastian, a full size cast of himself dressed as a Tuskegee Airman pierced by airplanes. This piece became prophetic when the artist perished in the September 11 attacks after working overnight in his studio on the 92nd Floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One.

In the spring of 2016 in conjunction with the 15th anniversary of his death, the LMCC organized an exhibition entitled Michael Richards: Winged on Governor’s Island in New York. A.M. Art Conservation was asked to examine and treat 11 pieces for the show. The majority of these, which came from Richards’s estate, had not been exhibited since his death. Treating the sculptures within the LMCC’s tight timetable and budget was a challenge. These pieces are among the most significant surviving works by the artist yet none had been stored in conditions optimal for preservation.

Richards employed unique applications of a wide range of non-traditional materials, including human and synthetic hair, latex rubber, feathers, tar, barbed wire, fiberglass and mechanical moving parts/motors. These carefully chosen materials were often linked to themes in his work. The title work Winged (1999) was “cold cast” in “bonded” bronze, a material made from metal powder and resin. Bonded bronze became popular in the 1990’s and was increasingly used by artists. The material gave the appearance of bronze without the costs associated with a foundry and the raw materials themselves, while affording direct control over the final product. Richards referred to himself as an “alchemist” for this use of “resin instead of bronze.” For him, the use of bonded bronze was also a play on the significance and permanence of bronze monuments.

Richards experimented with finishes, ratios of materials, hollow versus solid sculpture construction and variable use of armatures. Examination of the works revealed a progression in his use of these materials. Surprising corrosion patterns were observed in the bonded bronze. Differential thickness of resin, surface flaws and vacancies and incomplete coverage of complex molds and forms contributed to some of the condition issues. Happily, in 2017, Winged was purchased by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, ensuring that the object could be properly cared for and studied further. This paper will explore Richards’ use of bonded bronze and some of the challenges it presents for conservators during treatment.

avatar for Anne Léculier King

Anne Léculier King

Conservator, Artifact Conservation
Anne Léculier King is a Professional Associate member of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC). Anne obtained her degree in the Conservation of Cultural Materials from Canberra University, Australia in 1993 where she specialized in Objects Conservation. She has held positions... Read More →

avatar for Ainslie Harrison-[Fellow]

Ainslie Harrison-[Fellow]

Assistant Conservator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Ainslie Harrison is an Assistant Objects Conservator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and previously worked at the National Museum of American History as a project conservator. She received her MA in Art Conservation from Queen’s University in 2008 and went on to hold fellowships... Read More →
avatar for Eugenie Milroy

Eugenie Milroy

Conservator, AM Art Conservation LLC
Eugenie Milroy is a Professional Associate member of the American Institute for Conservation with over 20 years of museum and conservation experience. She has held positions at the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art... Read More →

Saturday June 2, 2018 11:00am - 11:30am MDT
Texas Ballroom B Marriott Marquis Houston
  6. Specialty Session, Objects