Conservation of "Kozangrodek III" (1973) by Frank Stella

Amy L Powell—Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
conservation

In June 2015, Luca Bonetti and Beth Nunan visited KAM from Bonetti’s New York conservation studio to work on the museum’s large sculptural collage by American artist Frank Stella.

Kozangrodek III (1973) is part of the Polish Village Series, which Stella produced between 1970 and 1974. This extensive cycle entailed forty works, each with three separate iterations produced in stages indicative of the artist’s process: first a collage of flat materials on canvas, followed by the same flat materials mounted on a wooden support, and finally, as in the work in KAM’s collection, tilted planes of acrylic, felt, and canvas mounted on cardboard. Stella titled each work in the series after a village in Poland, referring specifically to their synagogues, which were constructed between the 17th and 19th centuries and destroyed under Nazi occupation between 1939 and 1945. Cheap materials, minimal abstract forms, and titles with weighted historical references are hallmarks of Stella’s celebrated abstract works. The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York will open a career retrospective of Stella's work later this year.

Due to its awkward size, severe corners, and pliable cardboard material, works in the Polish Village Series are extremely fragile. Kozangrodek III had been damaged soon after its purchase by the museum in 1976 when the written records indicate it fell off a wall.

The artist and his studio often used (or approved of) gray epoxy to fill in damages, and the work had a fair number of areas where this had been done. It was also in need of cleaning, with both small stains and areas that had been overly cleaned. Cardboard was added to replace what had previously been damaged, but the color of the replacement did not match the original.

Despite these issues, KAM’s work has held up surprisingly well compared to others from the series, Bonetti relayed, because the museum, in the 1970s, installed a plywood backing to the entire work, with grips for lifting and ease of hanging. Doing so has protected the collage from further possible damage.

To address the condition issues outlined above, Bonetti and Nunan began by thoroughly cleaning Kozangrodek III. Working on site in Krannert Art Museum's East Gallery, they reinforced the damaged corners with Araldite, a Swiss-made epoxy capable of being shaped like wood. They used a primer to tone the gray areas to match the cardboard so that they are no longer as noticeable. The conservators also worked with KAM’s design and installation specialists to install a plywood cleat to the back of the work for ease of hanging and future storage of the work.

From January through March 2016,  it was a featured work in the permanent collection exhibition Collage: Moving Beyond Paper, organized by Kathryn Koca Polite. 

 

Originally published: September 9, 2015 
Currently Kozangrodek III greets visitors in the modern and contemporary installation Art Since 1948.