The enhancement of public art through conservation

Pierino & Vele, A subway è chiù sicura, 2001, Napoli, Stazione metropoli...

The art works located in the streets, in parks, subways metro lines, can become an integral part of our everyday life, landmarks and points of interest. Whether they are ancient or contemporary works, sculptures or site-specific installations, they are assigned to the same social role: transmit historical evidence, telling the natural features of an area, to transfer values ​​to the community, assisting in the dissemination of a free culture freely available; through them you can even give voice to citizens’ needs, tackling social exclusion, promote changes; each of these works can – at least in the best achievements – encouraging the development of a common identity, the sense of community, of a civic consciousness that promotes understanding and respect of spaces and public monuments. [1] In the city of Naples, for example, through the real paths of art in subway stations, the focus has been directed on urban regeneration. The artists intervened trying to alter the usual points of view, liaising with the city on the surface, creating unusual places to stop for looking, redesigning spaces and rethinking contexts in an integrated project of art and architecture. [2]

Some case studies show, however, that is not always possible to fully exploit the potential of these works, due to complex problems, often undervalued or mismanaged. Let’s start from the problems of deterioration caused by exposure to climatic factors, to natural disturbances, pollution, changes in humidity and temperature; but also determined, given the location in urban environments difficult to control, by human and vandalism. Often, the fragility of the materials used, the incompatibility between the techniques and the place of exposure, make precarious the preservation of these works that need a maintenance schedule. An example is the work Lifesaver Fountain, for whose realization was used the so-called GRP, composite plastic of fiberglass and polyester, a material not tested for outdoors exhibition. The good conservation depends on regular cleaning performed by an experienced hand and the application of protective agents as general maintenance. [3]

A monitoring plan and routine maintenance are therefore essential to guarantee the permanence of the aesthetic and structural characteristics necessary for the correct perception of the work. Documenting the materials, identify the vulnerabilities, schedule periodic checks and the timing of the interventions can avoid damage, loss and treatment of urgency, which often involve significant expenditure, unexpected, and sometimes even substantial changes. A role model is the one used for sculpture James Joyce, for which it was drawn up a maintenance plan, consisting of careful washing and protective treatments, operated periodically, thus ensuring excellent results through minimal conservative interventions, non-invasive and effective, but at the same time cheap. [4]

The respect of the citizens towards a public work starts from understanding. The first reason for the vandalism is the distance with the potential user, due to misunderstanding and lack of communication. The artist, who under construction takes into account the characteristics of the place, its history, the community to address, processes a loud and layered message, but not always immediately understandable and tangible. The role of local governments and museums that deal the installations becomes crucial. The stronger is the dissemination system of concepts and links that make these works site-specifics, the more widespread will be the knowledge and easier their acceptance. The value that the administration gives to each of these works – demonstrated by the attention, even more than the investment that has allowed the realization – measurably influence on the attitude that people take them. The work Finestra sul mare, before the restoration performed in 2006, showed a significant deterioration (both the concrete structure and the iron armor had cracks), with a consequent and progressive decay of the message, exposing it to vandalism. Action was taken to restore the aesthetic and structural features, and with them the original communication skills. Through the use of an anti-graffiti treatment, spray or brush paints have become easily removable. [5] The potential of the works are strongly related to the place where they are located, as most of these works, which in fact have an indivisible relationship with the surrounding space, such as to ensure that their location on a different place would alter the nature, mortify the meaning and deprives the ability to generate reactions. [6] 

Pierino & Vele, A subway è chiù sicura, 2001, Napoli, Stazione metropoli...

Perino & Vele, A subway è chiù sicura, 2001, Napoli, Stazione metropolitana Salvator Rosa (foto di Simonetta Di Zanutto)

Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Lifesaver Fountain, 1993, Duisburg ...

Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Lifesaver Fountain, 1993, Duisburg (foto di metro centric).

Marjorie Fitzgibbon, James Joyce, 1990, Dublino, O_Connell Street (foto ...

 Marjorie Fitzgibbon, James Joyce, 1990, Dublino, O’Connell Street (foto di Stephane Ollivier).

Tano Festa, Finestra sul mare, 1989, Fiumara d_Arte, Messina (foto di Da...

 Tano Festa, Finestra sul mare, 1989, Fiumara d’Arte, Messina (foto di Davide Restivo).


In the following articles I will refer only to contemporary art works, and in particular the problem of their preservation, bringing some concrete cases and examples, such as the Piazza Fontana (Taranto, 1983-1992) by Nicola Carrino, or Seme d’arancia (Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, 1998) by Emilio Isgrò, without neglecting the natural connections with social issues, and taking into account the behavior of the public administrations and museums responsible for the management of these works.

[1] T. Hall, I. Robertson, Pubblic Art and Urban Rigeneration: advocacy, claims and critical debates, in «Landscape Research», XXVI, 2001, 1, pp. 5-26.
[2] E. Cristallini (a cura di), L’arte fuori dal museo. Saggi e interviste, Roma, Gangemi, 2008, pp. 61-63.
[3] L. Beerkens, F. Breder, Temporary Art? The Production and Conservation of Outdoor Sculptures in Fiberglass-Reinforced Polyester, in «The GCI Newsletter», XXVII, 2012, 2, pp. 13-16.
[4] A. Naylor, Conservation and care of sculptural monuments, in «The GCI Newsletter», XXVII, 2012, 2, pp. 16-17.
[5] S. Rinaldi (a cura di), L’arte fuori dal museo. Problemi di conservazione dell’arte contemporanea, Roma, Gangemi, 2008, pp. 31-41.
[6] A. Donati, Misure del diritto per l’arte nei luoghi pubblici, in Arte e Limite. La misura del diritto, Atti del terzo convegno (Roma, 16-17 giugno 2011), a cura di A.C. Amato Mangiameli, C. Faralli, M.P. Mittica, Roma, Aracne, 2012, pp. 325-340.
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Annalisa Ferraro

Storica dell'arte, specializzata nella valorizzazione e conservazione dell'arte contemporanea.

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