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Saturday, June 2 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(Research and Technical Studies) A Collaborative Study of Sari Dienes’ Plaster Works

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Sari Dienes, a highly innovative 20th century female artist working in a range of media, has gone largely unrecognized until recently despite the documented influence she had on her male contemporaries including Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Since the recent re-discovery of her impact on the 20th century art scene, museums and collectors have begun to acquire her artwork, including a series of mixed-media pieces utilizing plaster casts of manhole covers. In 2016, the Kunstmuseum Basel purchased Snowflake Circle, while the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) acquired Star Circle, with the goal of finally exhibiting this important yet overlooked artist’s work.

As Dienes’ sculptures had not been previously studied, her materials and techniques were almost entirely unknown. Preparation of these artworks for exhibition provided the first ever opportunity to carry out a technical study of Dienes’ plaster cast assemblage pieces. Without published research to refer to, conservators at the Kunstmuseum Basel proposed a collaboration with the VMFA to share information gathered from the study of each of their two works. Conservators at each institution examined their respective artworks and performed a range of analyses including FTIR, XRF, UV imaging, X-Radiography, and microscopy. A broken manhole cover cast from the same series that was housed in the archives of the Sari Dienes’ foundation was also examined. The information gathered from this collaborative study was used to inform two key questions: 1) How do Dienes’ plaster casts fit into a greater art historical context? And 2) How to stabilize these two artworks for exhibition?

While both museums were eager to install their newly acquired Dienes artworks, examination of Star Circle and Snowflake Circle after removal of their gallery frames revealed a range of condition issues affecting their stability, including a bowing polystyrene foam board support and flaking plaster. The collaborative research project guided the stabilization efforts with the goal of finally presenting these works in the museum next to the male artists she inspired.

In addition to aiding in the stabilization of the two artworks, this research also informed the curatorial question regarding the role Dienes played in the adoption of plaster casts as a component in mixed media artworks. Materials analysis and archival research offered new insight into the possible chronology for Dienes’ plaster cast assemblage works, thus helping to elucidate her role in the history of art.

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 →


Annette Fritsch

Conservator and Restorer of Paintings and Sculptures, Kunstmuseum Basel
Annette Fritsch is a conservator and restorer for paintings and sculptures at the Kunstmuseum Basel. She obtained her diploma in 2006 at the University of Applied Science at Bern. At the Kunstmuseum Basel she works on artworks from after 1945, including paintings, sculptures, and... Read More →

Saturday June 2, 2018 2:00pm - 2:30pm MDT
Meyerland Meeting Room Marriott Marquis Houston