Conservation in 3D: Skype, Stereographs and Silicon

Recently one of the Museums’ most generous supporters, Dorothy Saxe, purchased a sculpture for the collection in memory of our late director John E. Buchanan. Created by contemporary glass artist Beth Lipman, Candlesticks, Books, Flowers and Fruit (2010) is a complex compilation of multiple elements balanced precariously on a table. My role as an objects conservator is to ensure that all the elements of this fragile sculpture are installed safely and in keeping with the artist’s original intent.

Lipman

Beth Lipman (American, b. 1971). Candlesticks, Books, Flowers and Fruit, 2010. Blown glass and painted wood. Foundation purchase, George and Dorothy Saxe Endowment Fund in honor of John E. Buchanan, Jr. 2012.3

For Beth, a conceptual artist, the act of putting each element on the table is as important—if not more so—than creating the individual glass pieces. As if she were composing a piece of music, each component serves as a note, which arranged properly together comprise the final symphony.

Install Pair 1

Left: Lipman overseeing the arrangement of her piece; Right: Fitting the pieces together

Unfortunately, Beth could not make it to San Francisco to oversee the installation of her artwork in the museum. Instead, we decided to make use of technology to facilitate a virtual visit with the help of Skype and my iPad.

Lipman looking through iPad

Beth supervises installation over Skype

I mounted my iPad onto a simple music stand, which I then attached to a vertically extending tripod. In this way, I provided Beth—sitting comfortably in her Wisconsin home—with an overview of the whole installation process taking place in Gallery 25 at the de Young here in San Francisco. The tripod could be easily moved around to give Beth different views of the work in progress.

Multiple angles

It was incredibly helpful to have Beth present acting as the conductor and guiding the whole process. Over two days, we successfully glued down over 66 pieces of glass—some pieces positioned at precarious angles, others appeared to be almost falling off the table’s edge.

Edge

As you can see, copious amounts of masking tape were used to hold the pieces in place until the adhesive had time to set.

Masking tape

At one point, the artwork looked as though it was covered with a giant spider web at which point Beth proclaimed that it looked just about right.

Just right

When we finally completed the process, Beth proclaimed that she was “super happy” and that she would be inclined to use Skype again should timetables clash.

Before and After

Before and after

Throughout the installation, museum photographer Randy Dodson was documenting the entire process. He could see that one of the difficulties I was having was identifying which object went in front of which–because the glass was black, the individual elements tended to meld into each other in two-dimensional photography. So Randy came up with an amazing solution and created 3D stereo anaglyph images of Lipman’s work.

To create these images, Andy attached a slider between the tripod and the camera that allowed him to precisely move the camera between the two shots. He then used Photoshop to superimpose the images, dropping out the respective red and blue so they could be viewed correctly through 3D glasses.

Screen grab

So grab your 3D glasses ( available here) and watch as this artwork literally jumps off your screen! As you can see with the stereographic photography, the table and everything on it is fantastically rendered in 3D! Notice how clearly you can tell which candlestick is in front and which is behind.

Lipman in 3D

According to Randy the same reason that made the sculpture so difficult to read in traditional photography is the same reason it works so well in 3D–namely because the sculpture is black.

These 3D photographs will provide extremely useful reference points the next time this artwork is installed; and with Beth Skyped in, I really felt as though she was standing right behind me throughout the entire installation.

Examine Candlesticks, Books, Flowers and Fruit through your 3D glasses and then come and visit in person. This artwork is currently on display in Gallery 25 at the de Young!

For more on this innovative process, check out this video: