Conserving Concrete Traffic
Articles Blog

Conserving Concrete Traffic

December 25, 2019

(guitar riff) – I remember still walking through that door out of Methods and
Materials into the courtyard, and I just giggled and laughed, and I was on the verge of tears. It was a huge moment. I was so amazed that
we owned the sculpture and my eyes immediately
fixated on these patches that had been done, as I
sensed immediately, in a way that wasn’t consistent with
the way the sculpture was made, the way the artist wanted
the sculpture to be. Then, you know, I saw the I-beams, I saw the moss growing on the
sculpture, I saw the cracks, and I feel like the weight
of the entire sculpture was suddenly on me in a way that I knew if I wasn’t going to
take care of this sculpture, no one would. (country music) So, once I had sort of
become sensitive to what the demands of this particular
sculpture were going to be, immediately I thought of
Christian Scheidemann. – I grew up in Bonn, which
is very close to Cologne, and Wolf Vostell was very present and the Ruhender Verkehr,
his sister sculpture, was there every time I went to Cologne. – Christian, you know, he was
kind of like the god for me in terms of someone who knew
everything there was to know about art made from strange
and nontraditional materials. He came soon thereafter and
we looked at the sculpture and I still remember I
think within five minutes we were arguing about the
muffler underneath the car, lying there in the dirt and he immediately said, “you
know, we can do this. “It’s going to be difficult
but we can do this.” ♫ I don’t want no Cadillac So much about the early
process with the sculpture was about convincing
people that this deserved taking care of, that this
deserved time, energy, funding. – It’s exciting when one sees a project like this create opportunities for collaboration across university. So if you think about
it starting as a idea of a faculty member and
a few of her students, that was then supported
in part by the Gray Center and then fully by the Neubauer Collegium, but then bringing together
folks at the Smart Museum and Rockefeller Chapel and the library and Arts and Public Life
in the Logan Center. – I started having real qualms about what am I allowed to do with this. Who gives me license to decide oh, we’re gonna fill those cracks; oh, we’re gonna take those patches away. – It is very rare to deal with an artwork that the artist has never
seen and has never approved. And for a conservator
the main question is, what is the original? – This whole project has been like energized by, perplexed by a
sort of overarching paradox, and that paradox develops
out of the opposition between understanding this concrete
car as a sculpture, on the one hand; or, on
the other, understanding it as the residue of a happening
that happened in 1970. – I think the workshops were
pure desperation on my part. There was a sense I need to do this. I don’t know how to do this. The only way to figure out how to do this is ask other people, and
people who know better. – [Alice] In order to know
how to proceed with the conservation, we had to go
back and look at the evidence and gather all of the information about how this car was made
and about Vostell himself, so we went on these kind
of epic research projects. – [Christine] It’s a
example of flexus art, which was a performance
based art movement; and Vostell made this as what
he called an event sculpture. – It’s not about making an art work but it’s more about the gesture. – You can see that in its
production that it’s a kind of immediate, you know, a rough
mold, the concrete’s poured in, there’s evidence of where
the two-by-fours were, and you see the rough aggregate
that’s not controlled. – This was an object that
demand the humanist inquiry, what does this sculpture mean? How does it mean? What are these materials? How do these materials mean? And why place it in a city
context, an urban context, etc. That only got me so far with a sculpture and especially with the
conservation of the sculpture. I really needed scientists
on this project. I needed people who were
material scientists, who knew a lot about concrete. I needed conservators
who are working precisely at the intersection of
art history and science. – After graduate school I went to the National Air and Space Museum and so there I worked
a lot on space material and space suits and air crafts and things that are large and complicated and somewhat unloved. – We knew there was a Cadillac underneath. None of us knew anything about cars and we knew we had to
find a car specialist. – It’s hard for me to quantify the effects of just sitting under 13,
14, 15, 16 tons of concrete and establish what happens
in the intervening 40 years. – We knew we needed a Cadillac specialist and we knew we needed
a concrete specialist, and the concrete specialists that we had were coming more from this
structural engineering side, but we really needed someone who knew about concrete and art together. – Concrete is a basically
manufactured product. It’s a binder and it’s an
aggregate, and you always need to, before you start working
on it you should always test it to find out actually
what its components are. – We reached out to
Amanda and she came out and was telling us everything
we all wanted to know about concrete in general,
but about this concrete, and what had happened to the cracks, and why they had happened, and why this concrete looked
the way that it looked. – The identification of the composition was through petrography, and then the petrography also
includes a carbonation test, and then chemical analysis,
which identified chloride. Those would have been
used for a cure accelerant for a pour in the middle of winter. Those were sort of aspects
of the concrete that spoke to sort of its potential
self-destruction, really. – So these workshops kind
of grew and grew and grew early on, first, second,
third, with really 20, 30, eventually probably
like 40 people in the room, crammed in there, trying to give some structure
to our conversation. – There were so many different
people involved that had different ways of
understanding the sculpture, different ways of conserving or doing art historical research. – Structural engineers, art historians, university landscaper, project
managers for the university, me, students. – I think a big challenge was making sure everyone was on the same page. – I was very invested
in the patch discussion and I was very against doing
anything with the patches. I thought the patches should stay. – We learned that the sculpture
was patched in several substantially large areas like this one in 1970, soon after
the sculpture was made. – You know anything about
the first set of patches? – All I know is that the windows
caved and it was patched, I don’t know if Jim did the patching. – [James] These I don’t remember. Like this one that runs all the
way across the entire front. I don’t remember that. – Patch failures were
introducing water through them and it was just sitting
and getting trapped between the plane of the original concrete and the new concrete. So I was uncovering all these
sort of like rotten pockets of concrete. – So Amanda had to develop a
compound that matched in color, matched in aggregate the kind
of stones that are in the concrete that matched
in terms of texture, and that also matched in terms of
the shape of the sculpture. – Is decay implied in Vostell’s work, is the rust part of the
original, or can it be removed. What about the air in the tires? – The body can’t be counted
on to not keep corroding and if we have it support the
weight of the whole structure, it will eventually fail. Some of the treatments
that we applied were a tannic acid solution
to treat metal corrosion, and we applied a
microcrystalline wax over that. There was rubber elements, the tires, they were very lightly
cleaned with deionized water. We replaced a exhaust hangar. Somebody in the car’s
original useful life had used household electrical wire, so we were directed to replace
that with electrical wire, that we sourced. – One of the most difficult aspect of the conservation project
became the stabilization of the sculpture. – It was fascinating to
listen to the debates that the engineers were having,
or to be in those debates. – [James] I think that
this has been happening primarily because of this. – [Milan] Yeah. – These I-beams that were underneath clearly placed there to
support this sculpture, but clearly so obtrusive
visually in a way that, I just knew, they didn’t belong there. And then we had to figure
out what was there. How could we support this sculpture? – So the frame of the
car that we assembled, it looks like a hashtag. – We had said it has to
be minimally visible, but that actually proved
very very challenging. – And by doing that we were
able to get enough flexibility within the frame that we were
able to control the loads to the garage and get a
pretty even distribution. – Because of the way that
this garage is structured, we really had to put our pressure points in very specific locations, and so a lot of the challenge
was drawing up something that we thought was
aesthetically pleasing but also was able to hold the sculpture
in a structurally stable way. – And so, bringing it back, understanding that it had to become a
public sculpture again, that in some sense became
the most fundamental aspect of the conservation project. It was the right side for
so many different reasons, it could be where a real car can be, it’s the last in a line of parked cars, it is where traffic flows, cars are driving in and out
right next to the sculpture, and yet it is also perfect from
a conservation point of view. – What triggers the chlorides, the deterioration due to the
chlorides is oxygen and water. So, by putting it in the
garage we actually maintain the idea of public sculpture outside, which was its original intention, but we also gain some coverage of it. – It is perfectly protected and yet it is art-historically
perfectly placed. It’s perfect. – It’s hard to say why such a silly, kind of dumb thing as
covering a car in concrete is so exciting, but it
is and has been for me from the get-go. – It is an artwork that really is about getting people to walk by, not even realizing they’re walking by art, seeing it out of the corner
of their eye and going “Whoa, what’s that?” – I think you can be intrigued, I think you can be challenged, I could imagine people being angry, as like, “really, you’re
using up a parking space?”, that’s one issue, and then, “really,” “At a university like this you would allow “this kind of art to
have such prominence.” And I think exactly,
because it’s the kind of art that really does take thinking. – [Christine] Why is so much of our world made out of concrete? And what does concrete mean? – To take the concrete and
put it together with the car is unexpected, not what
either was designed for, and yet when you do that you
open up conversation about the possibilities that are
inherent in all of the things around us that we don’t
think about, generally. – Concrete Traffic, the sculpture, and then Concrete Happenings, the project, has been an exciting moment to use an individual work of art, that clearly has inspired
incredible passion among our faculty and
students, but also raises really interesting
questions about what is art, and allows us to celebrate
the importance of objects and of public art. ♫ Cadillac, Cadillac ♫ Long and dark ♫ Shiny and black ♫ Pulled up to my house today ♫ Came and took my little girl away

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *