The magnificent Frank Stella artworks, Cones and Pillars, which grace the lobby of Grosvenor Place are truly a miracle of artistic survival. Commissioned by the building’s architect, Harry Seidler, in 1985, the paintings were conceived to present a dramatic entrance to the building with bold, eclectic colours. With each artwork spanning over five metres tall and up to 4.5 metres wide, their arrival was highly anticipated.
Created on a mixture of wood, aluminium and magnesium panels, this spectacular 3-dimensional triptych made its journey from New York to Sydney via ship. Instead of being stored below deck, the artworks were accidentally stowed above with only a thin plywood crate and a tarpaulin to protect them from savage storms as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the artworks were severely damaged. Moisture and salt water penetrated the packaging, creating electrolytic reactions on the painted metals resulting in bubbled, cracked and distorted paint layers.
Art conservator of the Australian National Gallery, Andrew Durham, stepped in. Despite substantial damage to the triptych, Durham was able to salvage the masterpieces, a process that took just shy of a year. Durham’s breakthrough was discovering the paint layers – 23 to each painting – could be separated. He removed the salt damage from the affected layers, flattened and restored them to their original surfaces.
Thirty years later, these multi-million dollar paintings require restoration to ensure they continue to stand the test of time. Fine art conservator, David Stein, has been charged with the project. In July 2017, Stein’s team commenced a three-month restoration project, consulting with Andrew Durham whose depth of knowledge and previous history with the triptych provided invaluable insights and direction.
One of the key challenges with the restoration is that the work has to be carried out on site due to the size of the artworks. Mobile scaffolding has been erected and the team’s four-part treatment plan – documentation, consolidation, cleaning and cosmetic reintegration – has commenced.
After the completion of a full conservation and condition report, including research on treatment history, photography and a series of tests and analysis, it was clear Corpo Senza L’Anima (Body Without Soul), was the most in need. This is where the conservation journey began. Once completed, work on Salto Nel Mio Saccio! (Jump into My Sac!) followed, and will finish with L’Arte di Franceschiello (Franceschiello’s Trade).
Corpo Senza L’Anima (Body Without Soul), Salto Nel Mio Saccio! (Jump into My Sac!), L’Arte di Franceschiello (Franceschiello’s Trade).
“This is a unique and incredibly rewarding project but not without challenges along the way,” said David Stein. “The materials favoured by Stella were unusual. His preference for urethane paints, epoxy sealers, oil sticks and glitter on aluminium honeycomb, sheet aluminium, magnesium and canvas, means more innovative restoration techniques are required. Frank Stella insisted that art can be made of anything. He was and still is a ground-breaker. But that makes this project more like conserving 10 different paintings than one.”
The delicate work will be complete by October, 2017. Once again, the three artworks will dominate the Grosvenor Place lobby – shimmering and exquisite – just as Frank Stella and Harry Seidler envisaged. A breath-taking welcome for both tenants and visitors to this iconic building.