Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Restoring Duane Hanson’s Beloved “Janitor”

Duane Hanson (American, 1925-1996), Janitor, 1973. Polyester, fiberglass, and mixed media; 65 1/2 x 28 x 22 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Friends of Art M1973.91. Photo credit John Nienhuis. © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Duane Hanson’s lifelike Janitor (1973) is one of the Museum’s most beloved works of art. It generates curiosity on many levels: How did the artist make the sculpture so realistic? What does this photo-realistic artwork mean? What does he wear under his uniform? How does the Museum take care of this unusual work of art?

To that final question, “carefully and creatively” is the answer that the Museum’s Docents recently learned from senior conservator Jim DeYoung. The Milwaukee Art Museum agreed to loan Janitor to the Walker Art Center for the Lifelike exhibition, Feb 25 – May 27, 2012. In preparation for the artwork’s exhibition in Minneapolis, Jim’s conservation team turned their restoration attention and considerable skills to making Janitor appear in pristine condition and ready for travel.

The details of this restoration are fascinating.

Curious about how a conservator cleans 40-year-old human hair affixed to plastic? Hint: They don’t use Head and Shoulders shampoo. Read on to find out more!

Art Curatorial Exhibitions

Where in the World is….?

In honor of Spring Break, and spring travelers everywhere, let’s send a shout-out to some of our painted friends who have also hit the road lately.  The last time I checked, our artworks were not boozing it up on the beach…but then again, I’m a firm believer that works of art have distinct personalities, so perhaps they do get a little crazy when they’re away from home.

As you may know, museums frequently lend works of art to each other for special exhibitions.  This is why—if you’re an art dork like me—when I visit a temporary exhibition, I always look at the labels next to each work to see where each one has come from.  Sometimes you automatically know, because you recognize something very famous.  And sometimes it’s a great surprise, as in:  “Who knew that there was a Museum of Bellybutton Lint AND that they just happened to have a major painting by Joe Schmo?”

Those of you who attended the Museum’s fall 2011 exhibition Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper exhibition saw fantastic and rare works of art borrowed from our friends and partners at the Albertina in Vienna (where the exhibition is now on view); as well as the Harvard Art Museums and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others.

In case you’re traveling yourselves over the next few months, you might run into some of your Milwaukee hometown artistic pals in the following shows.